Unfortunately Chad Durbin — after the Indians had drawn within a run — immediately started the seventh by allowing back-to-back singles to Miguel Cabrera and Brennan Boesch, and Jo Smith came on for the Tribe.
Smith got Ryan Raburn to ground out, but both runners moved up, and then old friend Jhonny Peralta deliverd an RBI single to make it 4-2. Alex Avila then hit a sac fly, and the Tigers had gotten the two runs the Tribe scored in the sixth right back.
Detroit went to the seventh-inning stretch on the plus side of a 5-2 lead, and that deflating sound was probably the sound of the wind going out of the Indians’ fans sails for this night, although there were still three innings for the Cleveland bats to try to make some more noise.
With one out in the Tribe seventh, Matt LaPorta went deep to left field to cut it to 5-3, and — all other things being equal — made one wish that Durbin (who has been less than lights out this year) had not opened the top of the seventh.
Jack Hannahan popped up for the second out, but Max Scherzer walked Grady Sizemore, and once again the Indians would bring the tying run to the plate, in the person of Asdrubal Cabrera.
Almost miraculously, Cabrera homered to deep right-center, and after seeming dead in the water only minutes before, the Indians had tied the game at 5-5.
That was all for Scherzer, and Detroit brought on Daniel Schlereth to face Shin-Soo Choo. Choo lined out to left to end the inning, but as some announcers have said in the past, it was a brand-new ballgame.
Vinnie Pestano came on to start the eighth, replacing Joe Smith, who hurled a scoreless frame but did allow two inherited runners to score.
Pestano opened the frame by falling behind 3-1, and then coming back to strike out Austin Jackson. Will Rhymes grounded out for out number two, and Magglio Ordonez grounded out, completing a brilliant — and much-needed — inning for Pestano, who hardly looks like a rookie who had only five major league games under his belt coming into 2011.
In the bottom of the eighth, Carlos Santana grounded out leading off. and Ryan Perry came on for Detroit, replacing Schlereth, who did his job in two-thirds of an inning.
Shelley Duncan — who had driven in the first two runs for the Tribe in the sixth — grounded out as the first batter Perry faced, for the second out of the frame.
On an 0-2 pitch, Orlando Cabrera singled to center, bringing Michael Brantley to the plate. Brantley singled, moving Cabrera to second, and putting the go-ahead run in scoring position for LaPorta, who had homered in the seventh.
After working the count full, LaPorta fanned, and Perry had escaped the jam.
To the ninth we went with the game still deadlocked at 5-5.
Chris Perez came on to start the ninth, and retired the Tigers in three batters, giving the Indians a chance to win the game in walk-off fashion. Now could the Tribe come through?
Joaquin Benoit was the Detroit pitcher in the bottom of the ninth, facing Jack Hannahan leading off. Hannahan singled to center, putting the winning run on, and bringing Sizemore to the plate. Adam Everett came on to run for Hannahan, and Sizmore singled to right, sending Everett to third, putting the winning run now only 90 feet from home and still with nobody out.
Asdrubal Cabrera was walked intentionally, loading the bases and, of course, setting up a force at the plate, as Choo came to the plate.
Maddeningly, Choo struck out swinging, and who should we see coming to bat but Carlos Santana, in a perfect spot to undue the double play and strikeout earlier. All that was needed (as was needed with Choo) was a deep fly ball or a slow grounder to the deep infield.
And Santana blasted a grand slam to end it.
Redemption? Oh YES!!
The winning pitcher in this most-unlikely win is Chris Perez (1-1) while Benoit takes the loss to fall to 1-1, as the Indians win their eleventh straight game at home and move to 17-8. Detroit drops to 12-14 in crushing fashion, as the Tribe moves 5 1/2 games up on the Tigers.
Heroes? Oh, there were heroes tonight in this game which your writer frankly felt the Tribe was going to lose. Carlos Santana, of course, is a hero by coming through in the most exciting possible way. And Vinnie Pestano is a hero for slamming the door in the eighth after the Indians tied the game in the seventh. And Shelley Duncan was a hero, driving in the first two Cleveland runs in the sixth. And Matt LaPorta and Asdrubal Cabrera are both heroes for their seventh-inning blast which brought the Indians all the way back. And Jeanmar Gomez is a hero too, for falling behind in the first inning and continually getting out of trouble through almost six innings to keep the Indians in the game.
This is the kind of win that can define a season, the kind of game the Tribe had no business winning — and yet won. The kind of game when a starting pitcher falls behind immediately, and the opposing pitcher is mowing you down — and you still win.
The Indians take on the Tigers again on Saturday evening at 6:05.
Try to BE there if you can be. This team is worth it.