CLEVELAND -- Victor Martinez had one thought as the ball jumped off his bat and cleared the 19-foot wall in left field. "Finally," Martinez said with a sigh of relief. "Finally." As much as he had tried to downplay the importance of his 2008 power outage, Martinez had no trouble admitting that what happened Tuesday night -- when his two-run homer in the second inning was the early spark in a 9-3 victory over the White Sox at Progressive Field -- was special.
For the first time since Sept. 25, 2007, Martinez hit a home run. And for the first time in months, the Indians had Martinez, who missed two and a half months of action following right elbow surgery, back as a productive member of the lineup. Was a weight lifted off Vic's shoulders? "If I say no, I'm lying," he said with a smile. "It really makes me feel good. I'm starting to feel a lot better. I have a lot of work to do after missing two and a half months, but this definitely feels great." That feeling emanated throughout the Indians' dugout. When Martinez returned to the dugout after taking White Sox starter John Danks deep, he received a big bear hug from burly backup catcher Sal Fasano and plenty of smiles and pats on the back from his teammates. It was a feel-good moment in a feel-good game in a feel-good stretch for the Indians, who have won 12 of 15 overall, eight straight games against AL Central opponents and two in a row against the first-place Sox. As a result, the Tribe, 9 1/2 games back in the division, finds itself with a less-than-double-digit deficit in the Central standings for the first time since June 29. "We want to win as many games as we can and finish as high up as possible," manager Eric Wedge said. "That's always going to be our goal, regardless of where we're coming from. All that starts with playing better ball and being more consistent as a ballclub, and that's what we're seeing." The Indians haven't had a great deal of consistency from starter Fausto Carmona, and he found trouble again in this outing, despite a brilliant first five innings of work. But Carmona also had a 4-0 lead to play with. It was built on Martinez's two-run poke in the second and Franklin Gutierrez's two-run double off the right-field wall in the fourth. Carmona nearly squandered that entire lead in the sixth, when the Sox strung together three runs off him. He walked Jermaine Dye with one out, gave up consecutive singles to Jim Thome and Paul Konerko, threw a wild pitch that allowed Dye to score, gave up a sac fly to Nick Swisher, hit Alexei Ramirez with a pitch and served up an RBI double to Juan Uribe. If that all sounds like a mess, it looked just as bad. "I lost Jermaine Dye after an 0-2 count," Carmona said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "After that, I thought I might as well go after guys. I was throwing the ball over the plate and making sure not to walk anybody." He didn't walk anybody after Dye, but he did find himself walking off the mound following Uribe's double. Still, the Indians remained ahead, 4-3, thanks in large part to Rafael Betancourt's scoreless inning of work out of the bullpen. Rafael Perez relieved Betancourt to retire Thome with the last out of the seventh. Then the Tribe bats took over. With two on and none out in the bottom of the seventh, Jhonny Peralta ripped a single up the middle to bring home a run and knock reliever D.J. Carrasco out of the game. With one out, Ryan Garko beat out a potential double-play ball to put runners on the corners. Octavio Dotel walked Kelly Shoppach to load the bases, and Boone Logan walked Shin-Soo Choo to bring in another run. A two-run single from Asdrubal Cabrera and a run-scoring single from Grady Sizemore capped the five-run outburst and put the game away. "None of that happens if Garko doesn't bust his tail down the line," Wedge said. "It was big for us to extend that lead." And it was big for Martinez to get off the schneid and finally go deep. Limited this season first by a strained hamstring suffered Opening Day and then by the elbow that swelled up in mid-May, Martinez hasn't exactly had a season to remember. And he's still just 3-for-14 (.214) since his return from the disabled list last week. But at least he's removed that dubious zero from the home run column. "It is hard to believe [it took so long]," Martinez said. "I'm glad I got that one out of the way."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.