Hafner beats Jays to plate on squeeze

Hafner beats Jays to plate on squeeze

CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner has helped the Indians win plenty of games with his bat in recent seasons.

On Monday night, it was his speed that made the difference.

Hafner dashed home from third base on a sixth-inning sacrifice bunt by Jayson Nix, delivering what proved to be the winning run in the Tribe's 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays at Progressive Field.

Largely reduced to a spectator during the Indians' recently completed 10-day road trip through three National League cities, a nine-game stretch in which he received just five at-bats, Hafner longed for Monday's return to American League normalcy.

His heroics were anything but normal.

"It was fun," Hafner said. "I was doing some sprint work on the side during the road trip. Somebody must have noticed."

Hafner began the bottom of the sixth by getting hit with a pitch from Jays starter Ricky Romero. Jhonny Peralta followed with a double to left field that put runners on second and third for the Indians.

With one out, Hafner received a sign from third-base coach Steve Smith he wasn't exactly anticipating.

"You get the sign and you say to yourself, 'Did he really just call that?'" Hafner said.

Nix's reaction?

"Only one thought was going through my head," Nix said. "I had to get it down."

He did just that. Hafner broke for the plate as Nix batted an 0-1 fastball from Romero, who scrambled to retrieve the ball but could not throw out Pronk at the dish.

"It's all about the speed," Hafner joked.

Speed and unpredictability

"You never know when they're going to do it. That's why it's such a good play," Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "You don't know when it's going to happen. You throw a strike, and then the very next pitch, he bunts on you.

"It was just a good call by them."

Indians manager Manny Acta saw it as an opportunity to scratch a run across utilizing one of his secret weapons.

"It's not a secret that we struggle to score runs," Acta said. "Travis is one of our best baserunners. I think people underestimate him."

The Jays sure did.

"Especially with Hafner running on third, I didn't really expect that they would do that," Romero said. "Any time there's a squeeze, you never really expect it. But they did it, and they executed it well.

"That's just smart baseball. They were trying to score a run and they were having a tough time. Whatever gets it done. If that gets it done, I have to tip my hat. Good job by them."

Hafner's fleet feet made a winner of Jake Westbrook, who held Toronto's vaunted lineup to one run on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts over six-plus innings to earn his fifth victory.

"That's a very good, aggressive lineup, and I was able to settle in and keep them off balance," Westbrook said. "It's just about consistency with me right now. Hopefully, I can keep pitching well and put us in a position to win, which is what I always try to do.

"We're a young team learning how to win. Tonight, we learned how to win a close one."

Westbrook enjoyed every bit of watching the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Hafner dart down the third-base line.

"He was motoring, wasn't he?" Westbrook said. "I was like, 'Holy cow, big fella.' That was great to see."

Asked how many times he's attempted a suicide squeeze, Hafner replied, "Once."

Was it Monday?

"Yeah," he said.

Jose Bautista put Toronto on the board in the first when he cracked a 2-2 sinker from Westbrook into right-center field for a one-out double that scored Alex Gonzalez. Austin Kearns tied the game in the bottom of the inning, delivering Carlos Santana with a two-out single to right.

But before Kerry Wood could nail down his seventh save of the season in the top of the ninth, Hafner and Nix teamed up to provide a dose of the unexpected.

"If I had a team loaded with sluggers, I wouldn't even have thought about it," Acta said. "The best time to do a play like that is when everybody thinks it's a bad time. That's the way the games goes. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

"But we gave it a shot, and it worked out."

John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.