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09/05/07 1:54 AM ET
Pronk main man in Tribe comeback
DH's big night helps Indians pad AL Central lead to seven
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mere mortals rip up their strategy magazines and curse their fate. But Travis Hafner found a more productive way to exorcise the demons of what he deemed to be a poor showing in his fantasy football draft. With two gargantuan home runs -- including the game-tying shot with two outs in the ninth inning -- and the go-ahead sacrifice fly in the 11th, Hafner willed the Indians to a comeback, 7-5 victory over the Twins on Tuesday night at the Metrodome. "Byrdie [teammate Paul Byrd] asked me, 'Where did all that aggression come from?'" Hafner said afterward. "'Are you just mad you had a bad fantasy draft?'" Hafner is the commissioner of the Indians' 12-team fantasy league, which held its draft in the team's Minneapolis hotel on Monday night. Pronk's draft didn't go well the first few rounds. "I made some good picks late," he said, "but I wasn't happy with the first three rounds." In this win, which gave the Tribe a season-high seven-game lead on the Tigers in the American League Central standings, Hafner was on his game early and late. Not long before it started, a reporter had asked Hafner if he's noticed the decline in Major League home runs this season. "I know mine are down," he said with a laugh. Shortly thereafter, Hafner, who has struggled to match his own grandiose standards for production all season, lifted himself up with a monster shot off Twins rookie starter Kevin Slowey. The ball lifted into the seats in the upper deck in right field, and the estimation that it traveled 424 feet might have been a vertical, rather than horizontal, one. But the good vibes from that blast, as well as the Kenny Lofton triple and ensuing run scored on a Luis Rodriguez fielding error in the second, didn't last long. Aaron Laffey, in his fifth big-league start and second at the Metrodome, was anything but sharp in allowing five runs on six hits with a walk, a strikeout and a hit batter over four innings. He had trouble getting ahead with his sinker, and his secondary pitches fell flat. "He didn't have the command we've seen from him," manager Eric Wedge said. "He was working to find it all day." The big hit off Laffey came in the third, when the Twins had loaded the bases with two outs. Justin Morneau smacked a double to center to bring everybody home and give the Twins a 4-2 lead. When another run came across an inning later on Rodriguez's RBI single, Laffey's night was all but done. "It was one of those days where every pitch seemed to be the wrong one," Laffey said. "They put a lot of balls in play. I missed a lot of spots." The Indians, who pulled to within 5-3 on Lofton's RBI double off the right-field baggie in the sixth, missed a golden opportunity in the seventh. Casey Blake singled off Ricardo Rincon to open the inning, but he was doubled off the bag at first when Grady Sizemore flew out to deep right. The gaffe came back to haunt the Indians, who loaded the bases, only to see Pat Neshek come in to get the final out. And with two outs in the ninth and dominant closer Joe Nathan on the mound, the Indians appeared ready to receive their last rites. The Tribe, after all, hadn't scored a single run off Nathan in five games this season, and there was little reason to believe that the trend would change. Suddenly, however, Asdrubal Cabrera lifted a ground-rule double to center, and Hafner stepped up. Nathan fell behind 2-0 and tried to sneak a high fastball past Pronk, but Hafner crushed it 433 feet to dead center for the two-run homer that tied it. "I put a good swing on it," Hafner said modestly of his 21st homer of the season. "I was just trying to hit something hard." He hit it hard, all right. And in the visitor's clubhouse, Laffey, now watching on TV, let out a yelp. "That was unbelievable," Laffey said. "I spit the hook tonight." The Indians have spit the hook quite a bit in this season of 36 come-from-behind wins. In fact, this would go on to become the seventh time they've won when trailing after eight innings. To get this win, the Indians needed the bullpen to preserve the tie, which is just what Rafael Betancourt did in the ninth and 10th innings. Betancourt followed the path set by Tom Mastny, who worked a scoreless fifth, and Jensen Lewis, who worked a scoreless sixth and seventh to keep the Indians in the game. "I can't say enough about Mastny and Lewis, along with Betancourt," Wedge said. "They got some tough outs." The Indians proved to be a tough out for reliever Julio DePaula in the 11th. Franklin Gutierrez drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Blake's sac bunt. Sizemore was intentionally walked, and Cabrera hit an infield single up the middle to load the bases. Up came you-know-who. "DePaula has a good sinker," Hafner said. "I was looking for something up that I could hit to the outfield, and hopefully it would go deep enough." The fly ball that Hafner hit was plenty deep. It sailed into Torii Hunter's outstretched glove, but Gutierrez was able to easily tag up with the go-ahead run. Martinez's ensuing ground-rule double brought another run in, and the Indians had put Joe Borowski in prime position for his 40th save. Now, with a seven-game lead in hand and 24 games remaining, the Tribe appears to be in prime position to capture their first Central crown since 2001. Hafner might not like his fantasy team's chances this year, but he has to be happy with those of the Indians, especially after a win like this. "This was a great win, coming back against one of the best closers in the game," he said. "It was a big win for us."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.