CLEVELAND -- Jim Thome's deep fly ball to left-center field appeared to have cleared the wall. Matt LaPorta's definitely did. The Indians shook off Thome's near-game-tying blast and Alexi Casilla's actual game-tying single in the ninth in dramatic fashion, with LaPorta providing the first walk-off homer of his career in a thrilling 7-6 victory over the Twins at Progressive Field on Friday.
"It's a great feeling," LaPorta said. "I've never done that at all, in all my years of playing baseball." LaPorta only had to do it because the Indians couldn't deliver the knockout punch against Francisco Liriano and closer Chris Perez couldn't shut the door with a 6-4 lead in the top of the ninth. "This was a young club victory," Tribe manager Manny Acta said. "We could have put it away, and we didn't. Then we went on to win the ballgame." In other words, Cleveland won in spite of itself, which is actually a certain mark of progress for a team as young as the Indians. They certainly made progress against Liriano, who entered the night having tortured the Tribe to the tune of a 3-0 record and 1.23 ERA in three starts this season. A three-run first inning off Liriano was sparked by a leadoff single from Michael Brantley, freshly promoted from Triple-A Columbus. The Indians put two on with one out, and Shelley Duncan capitalized with a two-run double to right to make it 2-0. LaPorta walked and Jayson Nix singled to load the bases, and Duncan scored when Trevor Crowe grounded into a fielder's choice. It became a 4-0 lead for the Tribe in the second. Catcher Lou Marson drew a leadoff walk, moved to third on a Brantley single and scored on an Asdrubal Cabrera groundball single to left. "Frankie's tough," Acta said. "You're happening when you can score three or four off him through seven innings. We had a good approach. We used the whole field. But when you have second and third with no out and the whole infield back, we felt we could add on there, and we didn't." Acta was referring to the fifth, when the Indians were in that very situation. Nix flew out and Crowe struck out. Jason Donald drew a two-out walk, but reliever Anthony Slama struck out Marson to end the inning. So run support was provided to rookie Jeanmar Gomez, making his third Major League start. But certainly not an overwhelming amount of it. And Gomez clearly did not have his best stuff. But he still managed to give the Tribe 5 1/3 effective innings in which he allowed just a run on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts. "He didn't have his best slider or changeup," Acta said of Gomez. "But the movement on his fastball continues to help him, even when he doesn't have his best stuff." The Twins knocked Gomez out of the game when they put two on with one out in the sixth. Acta summoned Justin Germano from the bullpen, and Germano got Michael Cuddyer to ground into the inning-ending double play. And when the Tribe added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning on Shin-Soo Choo's RBI double that made it 5-1, the game appeared to be in the bag for the Tribe. But the Twins, true to form, simply wouldn't go away. In the seventh. Germano gave up a leadoff single to Danny Valencia, and Drew Butera reached on third baseman Nix's fielding error. Rafael Perez relieved Germano and gave up a two-run double to Casilla with two out to make it 5-3. It got a little too close for comfort for the Tribe in the eighth, when Joe Smith served up a one-out solo shot to Jason Kubel to make it a one-run game. But in the bottom of the inning, Cabrera doubled with one out, and Choo provided some needed breathing room with his second RBI double of the game, this one a ground-rule double off Jose Mijares. Immediately in the ninth, the 6-4 lead looked dicey. Chris Perez gave up a leadoff single to J.J. Hardy, then hung one to the pinch-hitting Thome, whose fly ball, both to the naked eye and on the TV replay, appeared to hit the rail above the yellow stripe. "It was a home run," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "HD [high-definition] showed it plain as day. And the angle from the side showed it plain as day. Go ask the cook in there. He can tell you. And he's from Cleveland." Even after a review, however, the umpires upheld the ruling of a double. Perez appeared to have dodged a bullet. But with one out and two on, Casilla hit a sharp liner back toward the mound that just missed Perez's glove and went sailing into center field. Both runners scored to tie it up. "I tried to knock it down," Perez said. "I just couldn't react fast enough." But Perez retired Joe Mauer and Delmon Young for the final outs of the inning, and LaPorta reacted quite quickly, indeed. He smacked Guerrier's 1-0 cutter 393 feet out into the left-field bleachers to cap it. "We did a good job keeping our composure," LaPorta said. And they won a game that could have easily been lost.