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Must C Clutch: Kipnis makes first hit a walk-off

CLEVELAND -- Though there has been a magical feel to much of this season for the Indians, they've been running low on tricks for the past couple of months, making nervous fans wonder how long before the curtain comes down.

On Monday the Tribe made it clear that the show is far from over.

With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, Jason Kipnis added his name to the growing list of local heroes. The rookie pulled a pitch from Angels lefty Hisanori Takahashi into right field, sending the Indians to a 3-2 walk-off win and setting off an on-field party.

"This is unreal," Kipnis said with a grin.

For Kipnis, a highly touted second-base prospect who was promoted to the big leagues on Friday, it was the first Major League hit. For the Indians (52-48), who had lost their previous four games, it was the perfect ending to a rough stretch as they continue to fight for the American League Central crown.

It was also the type of victory that seemed so common in the season's early stages, when Cleveland shocked baseball with its meteoric rise to the top of the standings. The miracle on Monday night was the Tribe's 11th win in its last at-bat at home, and the seventh coming in walk-off fashion.

There has been a quartet of walk-off home runs, including a pair of grand slams (one by Carlos Santana on April 29 and another by Travis Hafner on July 7). There has been a walk-off walk (Michael Brantley) and two walk-off singles (Kipnis, and Orlando Cabrera on April 30).

With each one the Indians have grown more accustomed, and more confident.

"We've done it so many times this year," manager Manny Acta said. "It has grown into our clubhouse and our dugout. Regardless of not having the same lineup and the same guys on the team, it's been done so many times that guys believe that we can do it.

"If we get to the ninth inning and the game is pretty close, there's no rolling over."

The late rally came after sinkerballer Fausto Carmona and Angels right-hander Dan Haren locked horns for the third time this season. In each meeting the two did well in taming the other's lineup, though Los Angeles came away with the win in the previous two pairings.

Carmona walked away from this one with a no-decision -- the same result he had after yielding no earned runs over seven innings against the Angels on May 8. One month prior to that performance, Carmona took a hard-luck loss after giving up two runs over 7 2/3 innings in Anaheim. Haren threw a shutout against the Tribe in that April 12 meeting.

"I know how to pitch good for that team," Carmona said.

In this round, Carmona gave Cleveland six shutout innings, and Haren surrendered just one run through 7 2/3 frames for the Angels (55-48). The one-run lead that the Tribe grabbed in the first inning -- courtesy of an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera -- appeared to be enough offense until the Indians' bullpen slipped in the eighth.

"We had that little hiccup there," Acta said. "The key for me is staying focused."

That little hiccup was a two-run homer off the bat of Bobby Abreu, who pulled a 1-0 pitch from right-hander Vinnie Pestano into the right-field seats to put the Angels ahead, 2-1.

That put the ball in the hands of Angels closer Jordan Walden with the heart of the Tribe's order due up in the ninth.

Sitting on the bench, Kipnis began to think about his chances of getting another at-bat.

"I started mapping it out," Kipnis said. "'How can this get to me in the order? What possibility can it get to where I'd have to bat?' Bases loaded, two outs would be the way that I would get to bat."

The rally began when Brantley sliced a pitch from Walden into left field for a leadoff single. After Brantley stole second base -- a decision he made on his own -- Hafner sent a pitch off the left-field wall for a double, scoring Brantley to pull the game into a 2-2 deadlock.

"Brantley hit a fastball out over the plate and down," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Hafner hit the same pitch. They went down and drove it the other way. What hurt Jordan was not getting his breaking ball in the zone."

Walden then walked Santana and hit Jack Hannahan with a pitch to load the bases with one out.

At that point, Scioscia turned to Takahashi, then employed a five-man infield to increase the chances of a double play. The strategy worked. Travis Buck chopped a pitch to the right side, and right fielder Torii Hunter gloved the ball and threw to home for an easy forceout.

It was symbolic of Cleveland's offensive woes of late.

"It was like, 'Geez, we can't even hit a ball over an outfielder playing infield?'" Acta said. "When you're not going very good, those plays work."

It proved to be a temporary setback -- one that set the stage for Kipnis' memorable big league christening.

Then again, the Tribe has had a knack for such magic this season.

"It's really nice to just fit into this one," Kipnis said. "They've been doing this all year -- it's nothing new. This is a gritty team that will be fighting until the end of games.

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