Giambi's late-inning heroics no fluke
Relegated to pinch-hitting role, veteran slugger prepares himself during game
CLEVELAND -- Gone are the days when Jason Giambi could serve as an imposing presence in the batter's box on a daily basis. He has been relegated to a bench role that includes working as a late-inning power specialist with pinch-hit appearances.
Fortunately for the Indians, Giambi has embraced that job in this latter stage of his career.
In the ninth inning Tuesday night, the 42-year-old Giambi came off the bench with two outs and hit a two-run, pinch-hit home run that sent the crowd into a frenzy and Cleveland home with a 5-4 victory. It marked the third pinch-hit home run of the season for Giambi, and the 10th walk-off shot of his 19-year career.
"It's not an accident that he hit that home run last night," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You stay ready, and you stay ready, and when your name is called, it doesn't always mean you're going to hit a home run, but if you're not ready, you have no chance."
How does Giambi stay at the ready for eight innings?
"I usually hit around the fifth or the sixth inning maybe," Giambi said. "And I'll kind of have a feel for the game. Who's coming up in what situation? See what position I might hit in. And just try to stay loose."
Giambi said spending parts of the past four seasons in the National League with the Rockies, who used him as a part-time first baseman and pinch-hitter, helped him hone his ability to hit off the bench. Dating back to 2009, among the 1,871 players with no more than 875 at-bats in that span, Giambi ranked first in RBIs (157) and walks (151) and second in home runs (42), entering Wednesday.
This season with the Indians, Giambi had a .181 average through 182 at-bats overall, but had a .271 mark (48 at-bats) with runners in scoring position. He was also batting .263 with a 1.181 OPS in the ninth inning, and was second to only Boston's Jonny Gomes (four) in pinch-hit homers this season.
Giambi's two pinch-hit walk-off homers this season not only made him the oldest player in baseball history to launch a walk-off shot -- a mark previously set by Hank Aaron in 1976 -- but they both came against the White Sox. As a result, Giambi became the first player since Detroit's Gates Brown in 1968 (against the Red Sox) to have two pinch-hit, walk-off blasts against the same team in one season.
"Pinch-hitting is not easy, especially coming off the bench in the ninth," said Michael Brantley, who was on second base for Giambi's game-winning blast on Tuesday. "I mean, you're cold. You haven't seen any pitches. And he put such a great swing on that ball."
Giambi said working as a pinch-hitter requires an altered approach at the plate, because the batter is often seeing hard-throwing relievers or closers at that point in the game.
"You have to be more aggressive, because you can't really get into the at-bat," Giambi explained. "And, usually, the guy you're facing, too, is lights-out. It's not necessarily some pie thrower that's coming in. You're getting the best of the best, so you have to try to get that one mistake."
Ubaldo set for Sunday finale, Wild Card Game
CLEVELAND -- There is a chance that the Indians' fate for the postseason will come down to the final game of the regular season. If that is the case, Cleveland plans on handing the ball to Ubaldo Jimenez for that Sunday road start in Minnesota.
The Tribe is not thinking ahead to a potential tiebreaker situation or an American League Wild Card Game.
"We're not there," Indians manager Terry Francona said prior to Wednesday's game against the White Sox. "We need to win tonight. That's the mentality we've had all along. And I think by getting out of that, if I start doing that, it's hard to ask the players [not] to do it."
Cleveland does have a contingency plan in place, though.
If the Indians clinch a spot in the postseason prior to Sunday -- the Tribe held a one-game lead over Texas for the second Wild Card heading into Wednesday's play -- Jimenez would be pushed back and made available for the Wild Card game on Oct. 2. The idea of pitching in that one-game playoff for the right to play in the AL Division Series brought a smile to Jimenez's face.
"Of course. It's a big game," Jimenez said. "The first thing we have to think about is making it, getting there. If they need me to be there the last game, of course I'd be happy to do that, too. It's all about doing anything to get there first."
As things currently stand, Cleveland's rotation for the upcoming four-game series will be Zach McAllister (Thursday), Corey Kluber (Friday), Scott Kazmir (Saturday) and Jimenez (Sunday).
Jimenez logged 6 1/3 innings and picked up a no-decision in Tuesday's 5-4 win over the White Sox, allowing two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts. The right-hander has a 1.04 ERA in September, a 1.86 ERA in the second half, a 2.47 ERA since May 27 and a 2.66 ERA since April 29 for the Tribe.
While with the Rockies in 2007, Jimenez pitched the final game of the regular season against the D-backs, giving up just one run on one hit with 10 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings to help Colorado to a critical win. That helped the Rockies force a tiebreaker game with the Padres to earn a place in the postseason.
Colorado did indeed advance, but whether Matt Holliday touched home plate on the final play of Game No. 163 is something that has always been a topic of debate.
"He was safe, OK?" Jimenez said with a grin.
Bourn lobbies to start, but rests wrist sprain
CLEVELAND -- No other Indians player has a role as well-defined as Michael Bourn's. When Bourn is in the starting lineup, you can be sure that he will be batting leadoff and playing center field.
That has been the case in 122 of the Tribe's 157 games before Wednesday. But Bourn was removed before the ninth inning of Tuesday's game because of a mild right wrist sprain he sustained in the fifth. He was not in the lineup for the finale of a two-game series with the White Sox on Wednesday, the Tribe's last home game of the regular season.
Arguing that he could play, Bourn voiced his case to Indians manager Terry Francona, who decided to keep him on the bench anyway. Francona told reporters that Bourn's status was day to day.
"He's a tough little kid, man," said Francona, who stated that Bourn was available to pinch-run on Wednesday. "I just think that giving him a day to take a blow and let him get some treatment all day [will be good]. I know where we're at in the standings. I get all that. I just think we're best served by letting him get some treatment, so when he does play, he can be Bourny and not part of Bourny. But I do like his attitude. I love his attitude."
Bourn's injury affects the same hand that forced him to miss 21 games between April 16 and May 9. At the time, a lacerated right index finger was the reason he couldn't play. The only other time this season where Bourn has missed consecutive games was the period of June 30-July 2, when he was on the paternity list.
"I think it's OK," Bourn said of his wrist. "I don't think it's anything serious."
Bourn has played in 127 games this season. In that span, he's batting .260 with a .314 on-base percentage. He has 21 doubles, five triples and six home runs, with 23 stolen bases in 34 attempts.
In games Bourn doesn't start, the Indians are 23-12. He's confident they can continue winning while he's out.
"I feel good about that," Bourn said. "That's the reason I have to try to be precautionary. I want to play, but we'll see what goes on and then from there, we'll take it one step at a time."
Quote to note
"I was laughing for a good 15-20 minutes just out loud and to myself like a little girl after this one."
-- Second baseman Jason Kipnis, following Jason Giambi's walk-off home run that gave the Indians a 5-4 win on Tuesday night
• The struggles of Indians closer Chris Perez extend beyond his blown save in the ninth inning of Tuesday's 5-4 win over the White Sox. Entering Wednesday, the right-hander had a 5.95 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, .321 opponents' average and six home runs yielded in 19 2/3 innings over his past 20 outings, dating back to the start of August.
"The last month, I think he's thrown the ball actually pretty well," Francona said. "You watch how it's coming out of his hand. He's had a pretty good breaking ball. He's created some situations where [it's] like, bases loaded, nobody out. And to pitch out of it, that's there. Now, the consistency part hasn't necessarily been quite what we hoped for. So I think certainly we're hoping for more on that side of it."
Francona emphasized again that Cleveland has no plans of making a change at closer.
"You can't just be reactionary as a manager or you have turmoil in that clubhouse," Francona said. "There's times when you feel like you need to make changes, but if you react to one game or an inning, you can upset a lot of what's so good in there."
• The Indians are in the midst of one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in the franchise's long history (excluding strike-shortened seasons). Cleveland entered Wednesday with 19 more wins (87) than in 2012 (68), tying the third-largest jump in team history (also done from 1991-92, '53-54 and '28-29). The Indians enjoyed a 24-win spike from 1985 to '86, and a 20-win jump from 1915 to '16.
• Cleveland headed into Wednesday's action with a 16-2 record this season against the White Sox. The Indians entered the game with a franchise-record 13-game winning streak over Chicago, marking the longest win streak against one opponent for the Tribe since 1996-97 (13 over Detroit). The Indians have not won 14 in a row vs. one team since doing so against the Kansas City A's in 1960.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.