Francisco's first homer lifts Indians

Francisco's first homer lifts Indians

CLEVELAND -- Ben Francisco didn't even bother to look at the Indians' lineup card when he walked into the clubhouse Friday afternoon.

Called up eight days earlier as the club's fifth outfielder, Francisco knew his role: Sit on the bench, look happy, be ready to enter as a late-inning fill-in.

Then he got the word from his teammates. His name was on the card, batting ninth and playing left.

"Your heart stops a little bit," Francisco said.

A few hours later, it was beating uncontrollably. Francisco's first big-league start had a fantastic finish, as his leadoff, walkoff home run off Shawn Camp in the bottom of the ninth gave the Indians a thrilling, 2-1 victory over the Devil Rays in front of 34,557 fans at Jacobs Field.

So, at the risk of trouting out the most cliché question imaginable in the celebratory atmosphere of the Tribe's clubhouse afterward, a reporter had to ask the obvious: How does that feel?

"I don't know how to say it," Francisco said. "I wish I could explain it to you."

This was a night in which neither team had much of an explanation for how to handle the opposing starter. Right-hander Jake Westbrook, for the second start in a row since returning from a six-week stay on the disabled list, pitched well enough to win. In fact, this outing was his strongest of the season.

In trouble early, letting the Rays load the bases with one out in the first, Westbrook turned to his changeup. He used it to get Carlos Pena to go down swinging. Then, he floated three straight changeups past Ty Wigginton, who unsuccessfully swatted at all three for the third out.

"They were swinging at 'em," Westbrook said, "so I was sticking with what worked. I used [the changeup] a lot."

But whereas Westbrook worked himself out of a jam in the first, he worked himself into one with two outs in the second. He gave up a single to Dioner Navarro, walked Akinori Iwamura, then surrendered a run-scoring single to Brendan Harris.

"That second inning kind of evened me out," Westbrook said.

Evening the score was no small feat for the Indians, who scuffled all night against Rays right-hander Edwin Jackson.

Jackson came in with a 1-8 record, but he didn't look the part of a struggling youngster simply trying to hold onto his spot in the rotation. Over six innings, all he allowed was a run on six hits with two walks and six strikeouts.

"I thought he pitched great," manager Eric Wedge said. "He had his good fastball, and anytime he started to overthrow, he'd pull himself back a little bit."

Of course, that one run Jackson allowed was a big one. It was manufactured in the third, when Grady Sizemore led off with a walk, moved to second with his 23rd stolen base, moved to third on a Casey Blake groundout and scored on a Victor Martinez grounder to first.

The game was tied at 1. And it stayed that way into the late innings.

Still sticking with that changeup, Westbrook lasted seven innings. He turned the ball over to Rafael Betancourt, who pitched a scoreless eighth, and closer Joe Borowski did likewise in the ninth.

So as the game moved into its final half-inning of regulation, the Indians were looking to do what they had already done 11 times this year -- win a game in their final at-bat.

Of course, it was unrealistic to expect Francisco to be the hero. Sure, the young outfielder had notched his first big-league base hit earlier in the evening, lofting a single to the opposite field in the fourth inning.

But a walkoff homer to cap his first start? Unheard of.

It happened. Camp threw a 2-2 slider, and Francisco turned on it, sending it into the second section of the left-field bleachers.

That's the kind of pop Francisco had shown the Indians during an impressive Spring Training, in which he firmly established himself as one of their most intriguing outfield prospects.

"He made arguably the biggest impression in camp," Wedge said. "It's not always about making the club. It's about letting the organization know what you're capable of doing."

With one heroic swing of the bat, Francisco showed the Indians what he's capable of doing on the big-league stage. He rounded the bases, then braced himself for the obligatory beat-down at the plate and the postgame interview, complete with his first taste of the shaving-cream pie to the face.

He loved every minute of it.

"Pure joy," Francisco said. "I was jumping up and down and words were coming out of my mouth, and I didn't even know what they were. It was like something out of a TV show."

And on this night, Francisco was the star.

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