CLEVELAND -- Asked what his role was in the seventh-inning, bench-clearing fracas that delayed a good chunk of Friday night's game at Progressive Field, Shin-Soo Choo had to hesitate for a second. Was he throwing punches? Or was he just a peacemaker?
But you can't blame him for the pause. Though replays confirmed that Choo neither landed a punch nor took a punch in the fracas -- spurred by a dispute between Fausto Carmona and Gary Sheffield -- Choo left a big black-and-blue mark on the Tigers with his sweltering bat. Choo's three-run homer in the eighth inning -- his second long ball of the night -- brought the Indians back from a three-run deficit before Jamey Carroll's walk-off RBI single ended an impromptu melee night in Cleveland with the Indians taking Round 1 by the score of 6-5. "I'm more happy about winning games," Choo said, "not the fight." It's unclear who came out on top of the actual scuffle between two teams long out of contention. But it's clear that the Indians' offense, which trailed, 4-2, before the benches cleared and two players from each team were ejected, came away from it far from punchless. Manager Eric Wedge, though impressed by his team's late-inning surge, quickly dismissed that notion. "I don't think we need to be sparked," Wedge said. "Our guys have been playing their [butts] off for a long time now and that's the way they do it." The way the Indians did it on this night will likely be remembered just for the hits -- the ones that connected in the seventh inning and the timely ones in the eighth and ninth innings. But it shouldn't be forgotten what Carmona did before his first career ejection. Staked to an early one-run advantage after Choo's first homer, Carmona showed the Indians something they haven't seen much of since his breakout 2007 season. The right-hander commanded the strike zone and induced a number of ground balls by locating his nasty sinker where he wanted it. His tendency to overthrow in tight situations wasn't a problem because, well, he didn't have many to deal with. "Fausto pitched as good as we've seen him pitch in a while," Wedge said. "He was under control, commanded the baseball and he was working both sides [of the plate]." His only problem was Miguel Cabrera, who took him deep twice. Cabrera's homer off Carmona in the fourth inning put the Tigers up, 2-1, before he hit his second two-run shot even farther in the seventh inning, mitigating Grady Sizemore's sixth-inning solo homer. "I didn't feel like they were bad pitches," Carmona said through first-base coach and interpreter Luis Rivera. "They were not mistakes. They were good pitches and he's a good hitter." Carmona showed his own "defense" shortly after Cabrera's second home run. He pegged Sheffield in his left elbow with a fastball, which didn't sit well with the 39-year-old veteran. Sheffield walked slowly to first base, carrying his bat with him while staring at Carmona at various points. The benches cleared after Sheffield charged at Carmona following a pickoff attempt. Replays showed Sheffield and Carmona wrestling in the middle of the scrum as Carmona, who had Sheffield in a headlock, delivered multiple punches to the top of Sheffield's head. Sheffield and Carmona, along with Victor Martinez and Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, were all ejected. Carmona deferred comment on the incident. So did Wedge. But Carroll, who was hitting in the indoor cages with a number of teammates before it happened, thought it set the stage for the late-inning dramatics. "Anytime you run onto the field you get a rush of adrenaline and get fired up," Carroll said. "I assume that's what happened." Choo made sure it did, picking up a listless Indians offense on this night against rookie Armando Galarraga, who has given the Indians fits all season. But with no one on and two out in the eighth inning, the Tigers pulled Galarraga after he allowed a double to Sizemore. Following Casey Fossum's walk to Ben Francisco, Choo put his second-pitch slider in the right-center-field seats. The blast, which marked Choo's first multihomer game and tied it at 5, resulted in Choo's first curtain call with the Indians. "Everybody was telling me 'Choo, go,'" he said. "All the cameras were on me, so I was like, 'Who cares?'" The Indians kept going from there. Kelly Shoppach got on first to lead off the ninth after he was -- of all things -- hit by a Freddy Dolsi fastball. With Josh Barfield pinch-running and one out, Ryan Garko hit a first-pitch, opposite-field single off Gary Glover to put the winning run on third. Carroll followed Garko's lead, lifting a first-pitch single well over Magglio Ordonez's head in right field to lock down the Indians' fourth straight win. The scene at home plate after the single dropped, though there were a few punches thrown according to Carroll, was a much friendlier version of what took place an hour earlier in between the mound and first base. "I told the guys they should have done that in the fight," Carroll said. "But those were obviously jabs of joy and happiness."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.