Down 10 runs, Tribe stormed back
May 25 comeback proved anything is possible in ninth
CLEVELAND -- We are told anything can happen in baseball and, "It ain't over till it's over."But let's face it. Sometimes it really does feel over. It certainly felt that way for many of the 20,929 who showed up to Progressive Field on Memorial Day to watch the Indians play the Rays.
Keep in mind that this was a Tribe team pretty much in disarray from the beginning of the season. Entering the May 25 game, the Indians were 11 games under .500 and last in the American League Central. So when the Indians found themselves in a 10-0 hole after just four innings, those who left the ballpark early -- and there were thousands upon thousands of them -- certainly had their reasons. But, boy, did they miss a show, because the Indians' eventual 11-10 victory was one of the more memorable games in the Majors in 2009. The show was ugly early, as starter Fausto Carmona, en route to a demotion to Rookie ball, gave up five quick runs in just 1 1/3 innings of work. Carmona was all over the place. At one point, 16 of 19 pitches he threw went for balls. That was the theme of the game, early on. Hurlers on both sides struggled to find the plate. Of the first 421 pitches thrown, 185 were out of the strike zone, and 19 walks were the result. Although the Rays prevented all those extra baserunners from scoring, the Indians struggled to stop the bleeding. Relievers Jensen Lewis and Rich Rundles combined to let the Rays boost their lead to 10-0 through the fourth, and it looked mighty grim for the Tribe. "We were as low as you can get there," first baseman Ryan Garko said after the game. "We felt as bad as you can feel as a team." Something happened, however, when Jeremy Sowers took the mound in the fifth. Perhaps complacent with their lead or just thrown out of whack by the shift in styles brought on by Sowers, a soft-tossing lefty, the Rays began to go down quietly. For five innings, Sowers, who remains a bit of a lost soul in the starting pitching department, was brilliant in relief. He held the Rays scoreless, and he made it possible for the Indians to legitimize this laugher. It was Garko who provided that first step toward legitimacy. But at the time his two-run homer off David Price in the bottom of the fourth reached the left-field bleachers, it was difficult to imagine all the runs that would follow. Lo and behold, the Indians scored another pair off Dale Thayer in the eighth to make it 10-4. And they came to bat in the bottom of the ninth counting on a miracle. But it wasn't a miracle that kept this game alive. It was an error. With two on and one out, Shin-Soo Choo hit into an apparent game-ending double play against Randy Choate, the second reliever used by the Rays in the inning. Shortstop Reid Brignac fielded the ball and threw it away into the outfield, allowing Grady Sizemore to score from second, Jhonny Peralta to reach third and Choo to reach second. The Rays turned to Grant Balfour, who retired Mark DeRosa for the inning's second out. It was 10-5, and the Indians were down to their last breath. Garko came up just looking to put the ball in play and make something happen. "We talked about just trying to get the tying run to the plate," he said afterward. "We wanted to keep it moving. Nobody wanted to make the last out." Garko made it a ballgame, all right. He hammered Balfour's 1-1 pitch into the bleachers for a three-run homer that made it 10-8. Game on. Up came pinch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera, whose mission was to keep the rally going with nobody on base. He got things going again by drawing ball four from Balfour in four pitches. "I wanted to make [Balfour] throw a strike," Cabrera said. "When he threw the first two pitches for balls, I said, 'I'm not going to do anything.'" It was a good strategy, because the command woes that pervaded this game early on had returned for the Rays in the ninth. Jason Isringhausen became the inning's fourth reliever when he came in to face Ben Francisco, who promptly walked on four pitches. Jamey Carroll came up next, and he drew ball four on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. The table was set, and the heart of the Indians' order came to the plate. Sizemore came to bat for the second time in the inning and drew a full count, followed by yet another ball four from Isringhausen, forcing Cabrera home to make it 10-9. And now the Rays were really in trouble, because the Tribe's best hitter, catcher Victor Martinez, came to the plate looking to put this one away. "Go up and be a tough out," Martinez told himself, "and you never know what's going to happen." What happened was Martinez snapping out of an 0-for-18 funk in a big way. He grounded Isringhausen's 2-2 slider through the hole up the middle to bring home Francisco and Carroll, and a wild celebration at home plate ensued. "This," Martinez said, "was a big win." It was certainly a big comeback -- the largest in the ballpark since the Tribe's famous Aug. 5, 2001, rebound against the Mariners, when deficits of 12-0 and 14-2 were wiped away. In fact, such major comebacks are surprisingly frequent for the Indians. After the game, the Elias Sports Bureau discovered that this was the third time in the past 25 years that an Indians team had won a game that it had trailed by 10 runs or more. Over that span, all other Major League teams had combined for just five such victories. "It's a great example of why you always play it out to the final out," since-departed manager Eric Wedge said. "You just never know. Those fans who stuck around saw a tremendous comeback under extreme circumstances."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.