CHICAGO -- Ryan Garko still has plenty to play for -- like his job, for example. So with all due respect to the White Sox, who are fighting for their postseason lives this weekend at U.S. Cellular Field, Garko isn't exactly going to pack it in as the Tribe's season draws to a close. Instead, Garko and his teammates just piled it on in an exhausting, poorly pitched 11-8 victory over the Sox on Friday night.
Tying a career high with five RBIs by belting his first career grand slam and notching his first career multi-homer game, Garko was instrumental in giving the Sox indigestion. "We have a lot of pride," Garko said of his Indians teammates. "We've got to play hard for ourselves." And Garko, whose status as the Tribe's first baseman once appeared shaky at best, has played hard enough down the stretch this season to make a strong case for himself keeping that position. He has driven in 39 runs in the past two months, bringing his season total to 89, just one shy of Grady Sizemore's team high. "He's really had a [good] run down the stretch," manager Eric Wedge said of Garko. "You look at what he's done the last seven or eight weeks, and that's what we're talking about. That's the Ryan Garko we like to see." These are the Indians that Wedge hoped to see from the outset of the season. For the better part of the second half, they have been pesky enough to overcome their shortcomings (and, indeed, plenty of shortcomings were on display for both sides on this night). So while much attention was understandably placed on Cleveland spoiling Chicago's chances of regaining the lead in the American League Central race, Wedge had another point of emphasis after this game. "To get to the 80-win mark, with where we were, is a great accomplishment for our kids," Wedge said. "Everybody we play knows we're not going to pack it in." But pardon the Sox if they wish the Indians had. Up in Minnesota, the Twins were in the process of dropping a game against the Royals, so the Sox could have jumped back out to a half-game lead in the Central with a win against the Tribe. Yet a horrendous showing by the Sox pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, allowed the Indians to take the lead and pile on in the middle of the ballgame. Tribe starter Scott Lewis, hurt by a pair of errors from shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, gave up home runs to Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski in the second, as the Sox took a 4-2 lead. But Garko's solo homer off John Danks in the fourth brought the Indians within a run. In the fifth, the Tribe took over for good. Danks let the Indians load the bases, and Shin-Soo Choo ripped a two-run single to center to make it 5-4. Reliever D.J. Carrasco then came on to walk Jhonny Peralta to re-load the bases, setting up Garko's first career grand slam -- a shot to dead center on a 1-0 pitch. Carrasco had yet to throw a strike when he gave up Garko's blast, so Garko had considered taking the pitch. "I looked over at Wedgie and Derek [Shelton] to see if I should take the strike," Garko said. "They were like, 'No, swing away.'" Garko has been in the swing of things in bunches this season. He has seven games in which he's notched four or more RBIs. "Once I get a couple, I want to finish strong," he said. "They just sort of come in bunches." What also came in bunches on this night were the walks (five), hit by pitches (two) and wild pitches (two) doled out by the Sox relievers. It didn't matter, then, that the Sox cut it closer on Jermaine Dye's two-run shot off Lewis, who turned 25 on Friday, in the bottom of the fifth. Ehren Wasserman walked Franklin Gutierrez with the bases loaded in the sixth to extend the Indians' lead to 10-6, and it became an 11-6 lead in the seventh, when Cabrera scored on a wild pitch by Horacio Ramirez. The Sox kept coming on the offensive end. Konerko's RBI double off Rafael Betancourt in the seventh and Dewayne Wise's RBI single off Jensen Lewis in the eighth made it 11-8. Lewis, though, was able to set the Sox down quietly in the ninth for his first four-out save and his 13th overall. "We don't have a chance to make the playoffs," Lewis said. "This is as close to a playoff atmosphere as we're going to get. These are meaningful games for us." No one had a more meaningful game than Garko, who further made a case for himself and his fate. After batting .241 with seven homers and 45 RBIs in 84 games before the All-Star break, he has hit .313 with seven homers and 44 RBIs in 55 games after the break. "I'm just getting back to what got me here," he said. "I'm staying inside the baseball and driving it to all fields. I got a little pull-happy earlier this year. I'm finally getting back to being me."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.