Then he threw it over to third base. Washington's Nook Logan was caught off the bag and tagged out for the third out to wrap up a big 4-3 victory for Cleveland.
"Once he realized that we weren't throwing it to first, you could see it in his eyes," Shoppach said.
After taking a 4-3 lead on a Victor Martinez home run in the top of the ninth, Cleveland closer Joe Borowski loaded the bases with one out to start the inning. He needed an escape when Felipe Lopez hit a hard line drive right back at him.
"That wasn't just a routine one-hopper back to the pitcher," manager Eric Wedge said. "We needed to make sure we got that lead runner at home."
Borowski made that play, and Shoppach instinctively looked to first for the double play. But he knew his scouting report -- that Logan had tremendous speed on the bases -- and didn't think he had a chance at Lopez anyway. Shoppach bounced twice on his heels, then noticed Logan floating down the line.
"He was prepared for maybe a bad throw to first," Shoppach said. "If I throw that ball to first, we might not get it back by the time he gets home."
Logan was tagged out, concluding a bizarre finish to an otherwise mundane game. Logan said that he was indeed anticipating the throw to first, and preparing to rush home to score the tying run.
The Indians didn't turn their offense on until the ninth inning, when Franklin Gutierrez and Casey Blake got leadoff hits off of Nationals closer Chad Cordero. That set up Martinez, who took a ball over the 410-foot sign in center field.
"I just went out there and looked for a fastball," Martinez said, pausing to catch the replay of his triumph on a clubhouse TV. "My only thought was to put a good swing on the ball."
Against a last-place National League team, it was an important win, but it was made even more important by how it came about. Cleveland had been struggling offensively in recent days, and didn't want to waste another strong outing by one of its starting pitchers.
Paul Byrd went 6 2/3 innings and allowed only three runs. Two of them were the product of small ball, and the third came home on a wild pitch after Byrd left the game.
The Indians have no such concerns with pitching, and they have played solid defense as well. In the fourth inning, Blake made a pair of outstanding dives at third, and was shown up only by a running grab by center fielder Grady Sizemore in the eighth.
As the Indians attempt to break even in this year's Interleague slate Sunday, they'll try to keep their offensive momentum rolling. They've got the pitching and defense, but are looking to avoid relying on spectacular ninth-inning finishes. Not that there was anything wrong with that on Saturday.
"I never thought the game was going to end like that," Martinez said. "That was a very good thing for us."
Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.