CLEVELAND -- The Indians' offense had shown mild signs of life Monday, when the bats cranked out 12 hits. Of course, when you notch 12 hits and simultaneously strand 13 runners, it's hardly considered progress. Progress, then, was what the offense contributed to Tuesday night's 8-2 victory over the White Sox in front of 25,426 at Progressive Field.
The bats finally smacked the ball in key situations -- none bigger than Franklin Gutierrez's first-inning grand slam -- and the White Sox defense dropped it. Toss in another splendid start from Aaron Laffey, and the Indians found a winning formula for just the second time in 10 games. "As everybody knows, we've been struggling," Gutierrez said. "But we're working really hard every day. We're coming here early and working offensively." They came to work early in this game. Ben Francisco's first-inning sacrifice fly off White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle gave the Indians a 1-0 lead, but it also gave them two outs with none on. They went on to load the bases, though, when Buehrle walked Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko and served up a single to Jhonny Peralta. Enter Gutierrez, whose starts in right field have come solely against left-handers like Buehrle of late. He proved why he's still worthy of the southpaw starts when he lifted Buehrle's 2-1 changeup into the left-field bleachers for his first career grand slam. "Gut did a heck of a job," manager Eric Wedge said. "You never expect something like that, but he put a good swing on it." Cranking out such a shot was no easy feat on a cold night in which the wind was blowing in. And Gutierrez hadn't homered since April 25. But he had a history of success against Buehrle, having taken him deep on Opening Day. "I know this guy, so I know what he can throw," said Gutierrez, who would later leave the game with a bruised left quadriceps. "I guess I was relaxed. I was trying to look for a good pitch to hit, and I just found it." With a 5-0 lead in tow, Laffey could relax. But that's not how he viewed things. "[With a big lead] you don't want to be lackadaisical," Laffey said. "If you give up a couple runs, you let the other team back in the game. You have to bear down."
Laffey was able to bear down, but he had to work for this win. The Sox took advantage of Asdrubal Cabrera's throwing error to score two runs off Laffey in the third, when Toby Hall ripped a run-scoring double and Orlando Cabrera followed with an RBI single. And when Pablo Ozuna reached on a bunt single, Laffey was in danger of falling victim to the big inning.
But when Laffey got Carlos Quentin to pop out and Jermaine Dye to ground into an inning-ending double play, he displayed the poise that's helped him post a 1.59 ERA in six starts.
"As a ground-ball pitcher, there's always the possibility of a double play," Laffey said. "One pitch can be two outs. This was one of those nights where I had to test myself."
Another pop quiz presented itself in the fifth, when, with two on and two out, Dye reached on Cabrera's second error in what was a rare roughshod defensive evening for the young infielder.
That brought Paul Konerko up with the bases loaded, but Laffey calmly got the struggling slugger to pop out to third.
Laffey's ability to avoid disaster impressed Wedge.
"You look at his poise and composure, and he pitches with a great deal of confidence," Wedge said. "It was good to see he didn't try to come back over the plate too much or try to come back up. He just kept pitching the way he does, and it was very effective for him."
As effective as Laffey was, the Indians never know what they're going to get from their shaky bullpen. So insurance runs to tack onto the 5-2 lead were recommended as the game wore on.
Those runs came in the sixth, when the Chicago defense fell apart.
Ryan Garko doubled home Jhonny Peralta to knock Buehrle out of the game. Gutierrez was then plunked by a pitch on the left quad from Ehren Wasserman and eventually had to be replaced by pinch-runner David Dellucci. He's listed as day to day.
"We'll see how his first couple steps out of bed [Wednesday morning] are," Wedge said.
With two on, Jamey Carroll reached and Garko scored as a result of Konerko's fielding error at first to make it 7-3.
Then things got strange.
Carroll was picked off first base, but while Carroll was caught in a rundown, Dellucci streaked toward home from third. Konerko tried to nab Dellucci, but his throw to catcher Toby Hall was in the dirt, and everybody was safe in what was ruled a triple steal. A scoring change on the play is still a possibility, however.
No matter what the play is eventually ruled, it gave the Indians an 8-2 lead that would prove to be insurmountable.
"Those are not plays we practice in Spring Training," Wedge said with a laugh.
But the Indians have been working on their hitting. And for one night, at least, it showed.
"Even [Monday], I thought we had better at-bats," Wedge said. "[On Tuesday] it translated better. Our runners left on base was better, and we took advantage of some opportunities and had some hard hits. Those are all good indicators."
|"I know [Mark Buehrle], so I know what he can throw. I guess I was relaxed. I was trying to look for a good pitch to hit, and I just found it."|
|-- Franklin Gutierrez|
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.