Jason Giambi did his best Jake Taylor impression to keep the Cleveland Indians in the driver's seat for a playoff berth.
Giambi's game-winning two-run homer versus the Chicago White Sox in the opener of a short two-game series kept the Indians a game ahead of the Texas Rangers for the final wild card spot in the American League. Giambi and the Tribe go for an encore performance Wednesday in the middle portion of this set at Progressive Field.
Taylor, of course, was the aging catcher with bad knees in the movie "Major League" and came through in the clutch to propel the Indians to victory on a slap bunt. Giambi is a grizzled veteran as well and displayed the leadership that once had him at the top of the sport by belting a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday's 5-4 victory.
Giambi came on to pinch-hit after Michael Brantley singled with one away and stole second to get into scoring position. Brantley, who recorded three hits, including a home run, only had to use his legs to score when Giambi belted an Addison Reed pitch over the wall in right field. Giambi has 10 walk-off home runs in his career and two this season.
The big homer aroused Indians first-year manager Terry Francona.
"I think I have a man crush on 'G,'" Francona said. "That's pretty awesome."
Giambi got Indians closer Chris Perez off the hook after the right-hander allowed two homers in the top of the ninth to blow a 3-2 lead.
Cleveland has now won five in a row and 10 of its last 12 games and Tuesday's dramatics made a winner out of Indians reliever Bryan Shaw. Shaw got the final out of the top of the ninth and starter Ubaldo Jimenez held the rival White Sox to two runs and five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked three batters.
The Indians' magic number to seize a playoff spot is five and starter Danny Salazar will try to lower it when he takes the mound Wednesday. Salazar is 1-3 with a 3.09 earned run average in nine starts and the rookie right-hander hasn't achieved much success since his debut, going 0-3 with a 3.32 ERA in the past eight appearances. He allowed four runs in six innings of last Wednesday's 7-2 loss at Kansas City.
Salazar faced the White Sox for the first time on Sept. 13 and did not receive a decision for giving up four hits across 3 2/3 scoreless innings. He fanned nine batters that day, becoming the first Indians pitcher since 1916 to strike out at least that many in less than four innings of work.
Chicago fell back into the loss column and entered this series opener having won just six times in the last 24 games. Reed gave up the big blow to Giambi and was upset afterward.
"It's easy to hit a hanging slider. That's exactly what I did. He hit it out of the park," Reed told Chicago's website. "This (stinks). They fought back and got us where we needed to be and I let them down."
Dayan Viciedo tied the game with a solo blast off Perez in the ninth and Alejandro De Aza went deep two outs later. Both players ended with two hits for the White Sox, who were aiming for their first three-game winning streak since a six-game run from Aug. 16-22.
Dylan Axelrod draws the start for the Pale Hose Wednesday and hasn't won since Aug. 7 against the New York Yankees. Axelrod is 0-2 with an 8.82 earned run average in his last six games (1 start) and was hammered in Friday's 12-5 loss at Detroit, where he permitted seven runs and 10 hits in 2 2/3 innings.
Axelrod has yielded 13 runs in his last three appearances and owns a 4-10 mark in 29 games (19 starts) to go along with a 5.72 ERA. In seven games (3 starts) lifetime against Cleveland, the right-handed Axelrod is 0-1 with a 3.51 ERA.
The White Sox have struggled this season against the Indians, losing 16 of the 18 meetings between the AL Central foes. Cleveland has won 13 in a row in this series and is 7-1 at Progressive Field.