Indians 4, Nationals 3
WASHINGTON (AP)—The soldier had taken a bullet in his temple from a sniper, and the Cleveland Indians who visited him early Saturday were so taken by his story that they vowed to try to get him a victory.
When the Indians finally delivered—in an improbable ninth inning that included a homer to straightaway center field and an unusual double play—they remembered the wounded private as they celebrated the win.
Victor Martinez hit a three-run homer over the 410-foot mark in the top of the ninth, and the Indians capitalized on a baserunning error to turn a 1-2-5 game-ending double play in Saturday night’s 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals.
As with most teams who have road trips to the nation’s capital, the Indians visited wounded servicemen at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital. Martinez and starter Paul Byrd were particularly touched by the soldier who had taken the bullet in the head and lived to tell about it.
“He was in good spirits and we said: ‘We’ll try and win one for you tonight,”’ Byrd said. “And he said: ‘Don’t worry, it’s a done deal. You’ve just shaken the hand of a lucky, lucky man. I got shot in the head and I lived.’ I didn’t know whether to go over there and rub him and get some of that or what, but we shook his hand.”
Martinez proved the man prophetic with his drive off closer Chad Cordero.
“And as soon as he hit it, it was way more than coincidence,” Byrd said. “His words came true.”
The home run ended 17 innings of offensive doldrums for the Indians against the Nationals pitching staff. Cleveland scored only one run in Friday night’s loss and appeared on course to do the same Saturday until the big ninth.
Then the Nationals almost pulled it out in the bottom of the inning against Cleveland closer Joe Borowski before running themselves out of the inning.
Brian Schneider led off with a single to center. After Brandon Watson popped to the catcher trying to bunt, Nook Logan doubled to left-center, advancing Schneider to third. Cristian Guzman was then intentionally walked to load the bases, bringing up Felipe Lopez.
Lopez hit a sharp grounder back to Borowski, who threw home to force Schneider. Catcher Kelly Shoppach then alertly noticed that Logan had been overaggressive when rounding third. Shoppach threw to third baseman Casey Blake to complete the double play.
“I was anticipating a throw to first,” Logan said. “I was full-speed, being aggressive. One time I was not being aggressive probably cost us the ball game; this time I was being aggressive and it probably cost us the ballgame.”
Tom Mastny (5-2) pitched the eighth inning to get the victory, and Borowski was credited with his 21st save despite the shaky ninth.
The Indians were trailing 3-1 when Franklin Gutierrez and Blake both singled to left with none out in the top of the ninth. That set up Martinez, who hit his 14th homer and has 62 RBIs.
It was only the second blown save for Cordero since he returned from the bereavement list following the death of his grandmother last month. Cordero had converted eight of nine opportunities and had an ERA of 0.92 in his last 19 games before Saturday.
“I was trying to get ahead of him, that’s all it was. I was trying to get it down, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to get it down far enough and far enough out,” Cordero said. “Everybody went out there and battled so hard, and for me to come out there and blow it, it’s a tough thing to take.”
The win keeps the Indians a game behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central.
Matt Chico allowed one run over six innings for the Nationals, following the worst start of his young career with one of his best. The rookie left-hander made his only mistake when he allowed Grady Sizemore’s home run to lead off the sixth.
Watson continued to play well after getting a midweek promotion following a 43-game hitting streak in Triple-A that set the International League record. Watson, who got two hits Friday night, went 2-for-3 with a stolen base on Saturday and scored two runs.
Byrd pitched 6 2-3 innings for the Indians, allowing three runs and seven hits.
But all he wanted to talk about was the wounded soldiers.
“I like to read about some of the old pitchers,” Byrd said. “And Warren Spahn said after he went to World War II and he had a bad outing, he would say: ‘Well it could be worse. They could be shooting at me.’ And we kind of saw that come to life when we were over there today.”
Two members of the Washington’s projected starting rotation will seek second opinions because their respective injuries aren’t healing as hoped. RHP John Patterson (elbow and muscle soreness) said his arm starts “aching and throbbing” when he throws his fastball and will see as many as four doctors next week. RHP Shawn Hill (sore right elbow) will see a specialist on Monday. … The attendance of 32,539 was the largest crowd at RFK Stadium since opening day (40,389) and included the largest number of walk-up fans (6,863) since baseball returned to Washington in 2005.