CLEVELAND -- Ben Francisco got the message. If you're going to hit a three-run homer, it's best to make it convincing. Francisco, a day after his three-run homer off Kameron Loe was relegated to a one-run double because of an umpires' misjudgment, hit an indisputable three-run shot off Scott Feldman on Saturday night to push the Indians toward a 5-2 victory over the Rangers in front of a sellout crowd of 40,504 at Progressive Field.
"It was nice to get it over the railing," Francisco said with a smile. "It was nice to get one that counts." The Indians felt the same way about this win, which was their first in eight games. Their season-high seven-game losing streak was built on bad nights from the offense, bad relief work from the bullpen and bad luck for the starters. But on this night, the bats picked up starter Cliff Lee, who was shaky early before reverting to his fine form of 2008. Lee (7-1, 1.50 ERA) gave up two early runs on ground-ball singles -- one off the bat of David Murphy in the first and another from Ian Kinsler in the second. Those were two of five hits and Lee allowed in that two-inning span, and he also walked a batter. "What he had in the first couple innings wasn't going to make it," manager Eric Wedge said. "[Lee's fastball] was up early." Lee began to right himself in the third. Wedge said the left-hander never really found his breaking ball, but he didn't need to, because his command of his fastball only improved as his 6 2/3-inning outing progressed. Actually, Lee wasn't just rebounding from his rough start to this game but the rough outing that preceded it. His loss in Cincinnati on Sunday marked the first time the opposition has really rattled Lee all year, but, in holding the Rangers scoreless from the third inning on, he didn't let the losing ways become a trend. "He's always been a great competitor," Wedge said. "The separator this year is his focus and concentration. He's pitching and working hard to recognize what he needs to do to be successful." Of course, a pitcher can't be successful without some support from his offense, and such support was a rare commodity over the course of the seven-game losing skid.
But the Indians' bats had Lee's back against Rangers starter Scott Feldman almost from the beginning of this game. In the bottom of the second inning, Francisco scored from second when Michael Aubrey's grounder ricocheted off the glove of second baseman Ian Kinsler to make it 2-1.
The big support, though, came in the third. Feldman got a little wild in walking Grady Sizemore and plunking Travis Hafner with a pitch, and Francisco took advantage when he came up with one out and two on.
Francisco was in this situation because Wedge had scrawled his name in the cleanup spot for the first time since his May 6 callup.
"I never thought I'd be in the cleanup spot here in the big leagues," said Francisco, who batted all over the order in the Minors.
Francisco's only thought in this at-bat was to get Sizemore, who had advanced on a Casey Blake flyout, in from third.
He certainly did that. Feldman's 2-2 sinker didn't really sink, and Francisco pounded it on to the left-field home run porch.
Wedge, who had been ejected a night earlier for arguing with the umps about the homer denied of Francisco, didn't have to get in a heated debate about this one.
"He cleared it on that one," Wedge said with a laugh. "Benny's been fantastic. Everywhere we put him, he really responds to it."
Francisco hitting the homer from the cleanup spot was significant for the Indians. It marked just the second time this year that the Tribe's No. 4 hitter cranked out a home run. The last had come April 4, when Travis Hafner did so in the fourth game of the season.
That cleanup drought just speaks to the general ineffectiveness of the offense this season. So when Jhonny Peralta hit his ninth homer -- a solo shot off Feldman in the sixth -- it was welcome insurance for Lee.
And because he pitched so well with the offensive backing, Lee was able to quash a Tribe losing streak of three games or more for the fourth time this season.
"I don't give much thought to that," Lee said. "I would like for us to win the game before I pitch. [No matter the situation] I'm still going to go out and pitch my game."
For the first time since mid-April, the Indians had closer Joe Borowski ready to close out this game, and he did so by working a scoreless ninth a day after being activated from the disabled list.
"I wouldn't want it any other way," Borowski said. "You don't want to wait a few days and have the pressure start building. It was good to get it done right away."
Francisco's homer helped get the job done in this one.
"To get that three-run homer was big for us," he said. "It took pressure off the pitching staff."
And the umpires, too.
|"It was nice to get it over the railing. It was nice to get one that counts."|
|-- Ben Francisco|
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.