CLEVELAND -- Asdrubal Cabrera rounded first base in the ninth inning on Friday night and made a quick left turn into the infield grass. A swarm of his Indians teammates were in pursuit, chasing him down to officially celebrate the season's first walk-off win at Progressive Field.
Carlos Santana lunged and caught hold of the bottom of Cabrera's jersey, which stretched and slowed down the Cleveland shortstop as the mob surrounded him. Cabrera used a game-winning single to send the Tribe to a 3-2 victory over the Angels, providing a much-needed party for a team that had been searching for a big hit for a few days.
"It's always fun to jump around acting like kids," Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman said with a grin.
The frantic final frame followed a solid showing from Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson and an overpowering performance by setup man Vinnie Pestano. Cleveland's offense grinded out a slew of tough at-bats against Angels starter Jered Weaver to force him out of the game after six innings, but it took time for the Tribe to find home plate.
The Indians (10-8), who sit atop the American League Central, mounted their comeback after Weaver's exit, plating a pair of runs in the seventh before delivering the decisive blow in the ninth. It was the type of win that seemed so common a year ago, when Cleveland enjoyed 12 walk-off wins, but the latest heroics came amidst some early woes at home.
"Last year, we kind of had fun here doing some walk-offs," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "It was nice to go back out there and do it."
If he had his choice, however, Acta would prefer a win sans stress.
"I'd rather do it an easier way," he added with a smile.
Weaver and Masterson -- both hung with no-decisions for their respective performances -- set the tone for the low-scoring affair with a pair of strong efforts.
The Angels' ace held the Tribe off the scoreboard for six innings, sidestepping the potential harm of seven hits allowed and four walks issued. Along the way, Weaver mixed in eight strikeouts. Between those punchouts, and a series of drawn-out plate appearances, the right-hander saw his pitch count climb to 115 pitches at the time of his exit.
Cleveland had no runs to show for its work, but Acta was nonetheless pleased.
"The key today was all those quality at-bats we had against Weaver," Acta said. "He pitched well as usual, but we had a lot of good at-bats -- deep counts and some key walks. We got his pitch count up and we were able to get him out of the game and then score against their bullpen."
The Angels (6-14) plated one run in the first inning, when Albert Pujols singled to left field and crossed the plate on a bloop single down the right-field line by Torii Hunter. In the fourth, Hunter belted an opposite-field solo home run off Masterson, putting the Indians in a 2-0 hole. Masterson allowed four runs and walked five, but that was the extent of the damage done in his 8 1/3 innings.
Masterson's effort afforded the Indians' offense time to mount a comeback.
In the seventh, Kotchman snapped out of an 0-for-24 dry spell with a single to right-center field against Angels reliever Hisanori Takahashi. Michael Brantley then brought Kotchman home with a one-out double to deep center field. The Angels turned to reliever Kevin Jepsen, who promptly gave up an RBI single to Jason Kipnis to pull the game into a 2-2 tie.
"We had a lot of opportunities offensively and they stayed in the game," Masterson said. "Our guys did great scoring a couple more runs to tie it up."
Los Angeles threatened in each of the two final frames.
In the eighth, Masterson walked Maicer Izturis with one out before inducing one of his 15 groundouts (this one off the bat of Alberto Callaspo) to move the runner to second. After a brief mound visit, Masterson was instructed to pitch to Pujols -- mired in a career-worst homerless drought of 109 at-bats -- with first base open and two outs.
Pujols popped out in foul territory to Kotchman to end the inning.
"If there is ever a time where you might pitch to Albert in that situation, it's right now," Acta said. "He's scuffling a little bit. ... It was a situation where it was, 'Hey, you're our No. 1. Go after him.' He was strong enough to get him out."
In the ninth, Pestano entered in relief of Masterson with two runners aboard and one out. The hard-throwing right-hander proceeded to strike out both Vernon Wells and Erick Aybar, bringing an abrupt end to a potential Angels rally.
"That's what we like to see," Masterson said. "Just blowing it by some people."
As for what happened next?
"That was beautiful to watch," Masterson added.
Aaron Cunningham opened the home half of the ninth with a double off reliever Dan Carpenter that bounced off the wall in left field. Cunningham later moved to third on a one-out single from Kipnis. That set the stage for Cabrera, who watched the Angels implement a five-man infield alignment.
"I'm just thinking about hitting the ball to the outfield," Cabrera said. "Get a fly ball or something to bring the run in and win the game."
Cabrera did just that, and the party ensued.
"That was fun," Kotchman said. "That stuff never gets old."