CLEVELAND – A fast, shocking start is now historic.
The Cleveland Indians have never opened a season like this at home.
Michael Brantley drew a bases-loaded walk with one out in the ninth inning off Tampa Bay closer Kyle Farnsworth to force in the winning run and give Cleveland its 14th straight win at home — and another dramatic one — 5-4 over the Rays on Tuesday night.
The victory continued the surprising Indians' recent run of late-inning magic at Progressive Field, where they have won four in a row in their final at-bat. And, Brantley's walk-off walk made them 14-2 at home for the first time in 111 years.
"That's crazy," said closer Chris Perez (2-1), who picked up the win with a scoreless ninth. "It's definitely something that we enjoy and we're enjoying it while we're doing it, but it's not what's driving us. We've got bigger goals in mind and we're looking at the big picture for sure."
Cleveland loaded the bases in the ninth against Joel Peralta (1-2) before Farnsworth came on and issued his first walk in 16 outings this season. It was the 11th walk given up by Tampa pitchers.
Brantley and Grady Sizemore homered for the Indians, who in addition to their best start at home since 1901 are 7-0 this season against AL East teams, a stat that could convince skeptics that they are a legitimate contender after losing 93 games in 2010.
With every win, the Indians' belief grows that they're in it for the long haul.
"A win is a win, either in May or September," Perez said. "They all count the same. Especially with the way the rest of the division has kind of stubbed their toe and got off to a slow start, for us to get off to this hot start and put some distance behind everybody, it's nice. That's the name of the game.
"Usually the Phillies and the Yankees, those teams are the ones doing that. But we're doing it. It's just going to help us later in the year when we do hit that tough stretch or that weeklong stretch where you don't seem to do anything right."
Matt Joyce and Evan Longoria homered for the Rays, who came in with baseball's best road record but had their winning streak stopped at four.
Tampa Bay dropped to 2-19 in their last 21 games in Cleveland.
"Too many walks and too many mistakes," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We also missed some signs. Three of their five runs we kind of gave to them."
Shin-Soo Choo walked to open the ninth off Peralta before Carlos Santana singled to right, sending Choo into third with a headfirst slide. Maddon had Travis Hafner walked to load the bases and Peralta was lifted for Farnsworth.
Tampa Bay brought in an extra infielder, and the strategy worked for one batter when Orlando Cabrera's bouncer was snagged by leaping shortstop Reid Brignac, who threw home for the force. However, Farnsworth couldn't find the strike zone and after nearly hitting Brantley on the previous pitch, he bounced a 3-2 fastball in the dirt, bringing home Santana and sending the Indians to another dramatic win.
"It was a fastball I threw in the dirt," Farnsworth said. "I just pulled it."
The Indians missed numerous opportunities, going 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position, but still managed to win.
"We continued to go hard," manager Manny Acta said. "You can feel it in the dugout. They just keep saying it's our game. Let's take it. Let's take it. It's our game. Things weren't going very good. That's being Captain Obvious with the way things went.
"But, hey, we got the win. That's what's important. A win is a win."
Cleveland's Josh Tomlin had another quality start, allowing three runs and six hits in six innings. The right-hander has gone at least five innings in all 19 of his major league appearances. He was in line to get his fifth win before Longoria touched up reliever Vinnie Pestano.
Brantley's second homer gave the Indians a 2-1 lead in the fourth off Tampa starter Andy Sonnanstine.
The Rays tied it 1-1 in the fourth on Joyce's homer, the eighth given up by Tomlin this season.
Sizemore opened the first with his sixth homer. It was Sizemore's 22nd career leadoff homer, extending his club record, and a fitting way for the Indians to start a six-game homestand.
While they have been picking up believers with their solid all-around play for weeks, the Indians have not yet been embraced by all Cleveland fans, who like the chilly spring weather, have been slow to warm up to one of baseball's surprise teams.
Notes: The start was delayed for 1 hour, 35 minutes by rain that never arrived at the ballpark as thunderstorms averted downtown. ... The Indians will activate RHP Carlos Carrasco on Wednesday to start. He has been on the DL since April 28 with a strained elbow. ... Tampa Bay LHP J.P. Howell's comeback is moving forward. The 28-year-old, who hasn't pitched since 2009 and underwent shoulder surgery last summer, will throw consecutive bullpen sessions later this week. Maddon said it's a sign Howell's "close to coming back."