ARLINGTON -- Rangers Ballpark was the sight of many a big bang Monday night, and not just because Matt LaPorta was whacked in the head by an Elvis Andrus elbow. The Indians clubbed a season-high four home runs en route to a 9-3 victory over the Rangers in the opener of a three-game set. In a slow-paced game that included the LaPorta injury, a two-homer breakout from Jayson Nix, a four-hit night from Jason Donald, three hit by pitches for Austin Kearns, a controversial balk and an overturned home run by Nelson Cruz, the Tribe survived. Survival only took three hours, 42 minutes. As is usually the case in this place, it wasn't easy.
"There are some crazy games here," Nix said. "When you play in this ballpark, no lead is safe. You've got to put some runs on the board." The Indians -- and Nix, especially -- had no trouble doing that. Starter Aaron Laffey was staked to an early 4-0 lead thanks to Donald's two-out bloop RBI single that fell out of the right fielder Cruz's glove in the second and Carlos Santana's solo shot and LaPorta's two-run blast off Omar Beltre in the third. LaPorta was lost to a head contusion later in the third, when Elvis Andrus accidentally elbowed him in the head while crossing first on an infield single that scored a run and made it 4-1. But the Indians kept adding to their advantage when Nix went deep for the first time on the night in the fourth and Michael Brantley added a sacrifice fly in the fifth to make it 6-1. This all would have been abundant run support to get Laffey in position for the victory, but Laffey pulled himself out of the running by burning 102 pitches to get through just 4 1/3 innings of work. He needed 13 pitches alone to strike out Josh Hamilton in the second. So when Ian Kinsler grounded an RBI single through the hole between third and short in the fifth, he knocked Laffey out of the game, two outs shy of qualifying for his second victory. "I thought I threw the ball well," Laffey said. "I just had trouble putting guys away. I didn't throw enough strikes tonight. That's something I have to work on is staying more consistent in the zone." With Laffey laboring and in the triple digits with his pitch count, manager Manny Acta turned to reliever Frank Herrmann. The Rangers had two on and the meat of their lineup at the plate, so it was no short order for the rookie Herrmann. When Vlad Guerrero punched a single to right to load the bases, one could sense the lead potentially slipping away from the Tribe. But that was before Herrmann got Hamilton looking at strike three at the knees and Cruz looking at a knee-buckling breaking ball for strike three to end the inning and the threat. "That was huge," Acta said. "He went through the heart of their order. I think that was the key part of the game. It prevented the momentum from swinging to their side." The momentum remained with the Indians when Jhonny Peralta's RBI double added to the Tribe lead in the sixth. In the bottom of the inning, reliever Joe Smith balked home a run to make it 7-3. Both he and Acta vehemently argued the call, to no avail. But the Indians would have better luck arguing in the seventh. First, Nix hit a two-run shot in the top of the inning to make it 9-3 and cap his most impressive performance since the Indians claimed him on waivers from the White Sox a week and a half ago. It was Nix's second career multi-homer game, and it came in front of about 15 friends and family members. Nix is from the Dallas area. "It was a special night," he said. Cruz threatened to make it not-so-special for the Tribe when he connected on a deep fly to right off Smith with two on in the bottom of the seventh. The ball sailed over the wall and was initially ruled a three-run home run that would have made it 9-6. "It could have turned ugly there," Acta said. But at Acta's urging, the umpires reviewed the play and determined that the ball sailed right of the foul pole. The Indians won that debate, and they went on to win the game, too. "We just didn't want them to get any closer, because they're good," Acta said of the first-place Rangers. "They score runs in bunches." On this crazy night, it was the Indians scoring in bunches and walking out the winner. "It was a long game," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "They played well. We just got outplayed."