"Those guys did a great job," second baseman Jamey Carroll said of the rookie effort. "When you see stuff like that, it gives you a lift. It energizes you a little bit."
The Indians, seven games back in the American League Central race after a 3-3 road trip, will take such lifts any way they can get them. Injuries and ineffectiveness have forced them to almost totally remake their roster in the first two months of the season, and Sunday's lineup was proof of how much this club has evolved.
Huff, Gimenez and Valbuena all began the year at Triple-A Columbus, but they all came up large in this one.
"The kids did a good job," manager Eric Wedge said.
Gimenez and Valbuena made Huff's job a lot easier when they launched the consecutive solo shots off Bartolo Colon in the second, putting the Tribe ahead, 3-0. Gimenez only has eight at-bats in the big leagues, and two of them have resulted in a home run.
"That's a pretty good ratio," Gimenez said. "I'm going to have to mix in some singles."
Singles were not the name of the game for the Tribe's offense in this one. The Indians padded their lead in the fourth, when Kelly Shoppach doubled, moved to third on a Gimenez groundout and scored on Valbuena's sacrifice fly. And in the fifth, the Tribe seemingly broke the game open when Victor Martinez and Shin-Soo Choo hit back-to-back solo blasts off Colon to make it 6-0.
All this served to ease the pressure on Huff, who was making his fifth start in search of that first, precious win.
But Huff didn't make matters easy, as he let the leadoff man aboard in the first and second innings and gave up a one-out double to Paul Konerko in the fourth. He fought through all those prickly situations by commanding his pitches and getting help from a defensive effort led by Valbuena's solid work at shortstop. This was the first time the Indians started Valbuena at the position, and he saw plenty of activity, notching seven assists.
"I haven't played [shortstop] too much," said Valbuena, a second baseman by trade. "But now I feel comfortable there, because I played there in Triple-A. I know what I'm doing."
Huff seems to have a better idea of what he's doing at this level with each outing. He still could stand to be more efficient, as he needed 96 pitches to get through five innings in this one, but he's shown continual improvement.
"I'm learning so much with every start," he said. "This start was better than the last, and that's what you look for."
Huff was looking for trouble when he walked the first two batters in his fifth and final inning of work, setting up Alexei Ramirez's three-run homer that made it a 6-3 ballgame. But his teammates quickly bailed him out in the sixth. Gimenez and Valbuena drew walks off left-hander Wes Whisler, advanced on Crowe's sacrifice bunt and scored on consecutive RBI singles from Ben Francisco and the hot-hitting Carroll off D.J. Carrasco.
With that, the Tribe's lead was extended to 8-3, and the game was in hand -- well, seemingly in hand.
In the eighth, Luis Vizcaino faced three batters and let them all aboard. Wedge summoned Rafael Perez, who threw four straight balls to Ramon Castro, walking in a run.
Perez recovered to strike out Brian Anderson and Jayson Nix in succession, but Beckham hit a lined shot to center that seemed destined for extra bases. Crowe, however, charged in on the ball and caught it on a headfirst dive. The umpires appeared momentarily confused as to whether the ball hit the ground first, but the replays confirmed their ruling of an inning-ending out.
"That was a big catch with the bases loaded," Wedge said. "It's a different ballgame if Crowe doesn't make that catch."
And without the strong showing from the rookies, it would have been a different outcome for the Tribe on this day.
"It's nice," Gimenez said. "I'm sure it's gratifying for the Indians to know they're able to go down and get some help from Columbus."