Hafner beats Jays' shift for game-winner

Tribe holds on for marathon victory

CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner might tell you he intended to do what he did Wednesday night, but he'd probably have a hard time looking you in the eye.

"If he doesn't say that was luck," teammate David Dellucci would say afterward, "he's lying."

What, exactly, did Hafner do?

Well, he beat the Blue Jays' heavy infield shift and ended a four-hour-plus marathon at Jacobs Field by punching a full-count, in-the-dirt changeup down the third-base line for what turned out to be the game-winning, RBI double in the Indians' 7-6 victory.

And no, Hafner did not claim to have planned it that way all along. No one would have believed him, anyway.

In fact, Hafner himself struggled to fathom how his little blooper off Shaun Marcum got the red-hot Tribe its ninth win in 10 games.

"Did that just happen?" he said.

It's a question all the Indians might have been asking themselves much earlier in the evening, when right-hander Jake Westbrook left the game in the second inning with an abdominal injury. The Tribe was less than 24 hours away from getting left-hander Cliff Lee back in the rotation after his recovery from an abdominal injury of his own, so the thought of another starter going down might have seemed unfathomable.

"You know it's an uphill battle from there," manager Eric Wedge said.

Wedge was right. He was forced to tap his bullpen, using every last reliever available.

Some of those arms were more effective than others.

Fernando Cabrera worked 2 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing the Indians to take a 2-1 lead off Victor Zambrano with Ryan Garko's solo homer in the second and Trot Nixon's sacrifice fly in the third.

But a wayward appearance from Jason Davis wiped away that lead in the fifth. The Jays loaded the bases, and Davis walked both Matt Stairs and Sal Fasano to bring in two runs. Aaron Fultz relieved him and got Alex Rios to ground out, but another run came across on the play to make it 4-2.

When Jhonny Peralta swatted Josh Towers' 2-1 pitch into the left-field bleachers for a three-run homer in the fifth, the Indians went back up, 6-4. Just as quickly, however, the score was tied in the sixth, when Roberto Hernandez gave up back-to-back RBI doubles to Troy Glaus and Aaron Hill.

Rafael Betancourt, Joe Borowski and Tom Mastny held the Jays scoreless late, so it remained knotted at 6, stretching into the 11th and past the four-hour mark.

Mastny was the last arm remaining in the 'pen, and Wedge figured he was good for two, maybe three innings. The Indians knew they had to put something together quickly, unless they wanted to see something totally absurd, like pitcher-turned-outfielder Shin-Soo Choo giving it a go on the hill.

So with Marcum on the mound, the Indians found an unlikely way to get it done.

Dellucci led off the bottom of the 11th with a broken-bat fly ball to shallow center. Vernon Wells had a beat on it, but his sliding attempt to catch the ball came up empty, as it bounced off his glove, allowing Dellucci to reach with a single.

"If [Hafner] says he meant to [get his hit the way he did]," Dellucci said, "then I meant to break my bat and get that hit there."

OK, so it was dumb luck. But given the circumstances, the Indians would take whatever they could get.

The Jays, as so many teams do, tried to take away Hafner's chances of pulling a pitch through the right side of the infield by employing their shift. It's nothing new to the man known as Pronk.

"Sometimes [when teams pull a dramatic shift] I think, 'If I don't hit a home run here, I don't know how I'm going to get a hit,'" Hafner said with a laugh.

With Dellucci set to run on Marcum's 3-2 pitch, Hafner wasn't looking to crank out a home run. He just wanted to put the ball in play. The changeup went down and away in the dirt, and he took a hack at it.

"In retrospect," Hafner said, "it probably wasn't a pitch I should have swung at. I tried to foul it off."

But he got just enough bat on the ball to put it in play down the third-base side, where no one was around to field it. Dellucci, sprinting with all his might, headed all the way home and scored the winning run with a headfirst slide.

Hafner, meanwhile, couldn't help but smile to himself. His happy accident had paid off.

"Of course, I'll tell [the rest of the Indians] I meant to do that," he said. "It was just one of those games with a strange ending. We had some fun with it. But the most important thing is that we won."

And that's no lie.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.