By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
It could have been an uplifting victory. Instead, it was a frustrating loss.
After having his at-bat prolonged by an error on a foul ball, Anthony Rendon took advantage by hitting his first major-league home run.
The roundtripper, the Nationals’ fifth solo shot of the night, came with two outs in the ninth and provided the go-ahead run, and Washington held on for a 7-6 win to even the weekend series at one game apiece.
The loss came after the Tribe had rallied from a five-run deficit against one of the majors’ top pitchers this season.
Vinnie Pestano (1-2) , who had come on to start the ninth with the score tied at six, set down the first two batters. It looked as though the Tribe would go into the bottom of the ninth with the score tied for a second straight night when Rendon hit the next pitch for a high pop behind first base. First baseman Nick Swisher got into position initially, but then turned and watched the ball fall behind him and in front of second baseman Jason Kipnis. Swisher was charged with an error, the team’s third of the evening.
“Swish thought he was under it, and then realized too late that he wasn’t,” manager Terry Francona said. “It fell into no-man’s land. It’s a heartbreaker, what happened right after that. But that can happen when you don’t turn potential outs into outs.”
What happened right after that was that Rendon (3 hits) then took a ball and sliced the following pitch to right field, barely clearing the fence.
The Indians had rallied from a 5-0 deficit to take a 6-5 advantage, But Chad Tracy tied it with a pinch-hit homer to center on an 0-2 pitch from Joe Smith with two outs in the eighth inning.
“(Smith) didn’t locate it; he misfired,” Francona said.
Drew Storen (1-1) got the win by getting the final out of the eighth inning. Rafael Soriano worked the ninth for his 18th save, although not without a fight. After Mike Aviles lined a two-out double to left-center, Michael Bounn ripped a line drive to the right side of the infield. However, first baseman Adam LaRoche leaped and caught the ball to end the contest.
Cleveland (33-34), which saw its three-game winning streak snapped, remains 41⁄2 games behind Detroit in the AL Central Division.
The Nationals (34-33) rocked starter Scott Kazmir for five runs in 22⁄3 innings, including three home runs. That provided their starter, Jordan Zimmermann, with a 5-0 lead.
However, the Indians’ offense was up to the challenge, as it hit Zimmermann with six runs within a three-inning span to go up 6-5 at the end of the fifth frame.
The right-handed Zimmermann had entered the contest with a 9-3 record and 2.00 ERA.
Kazmir yielded back-to-back 400-plus foot shots in the first inning to Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, on line drives to right-center and center-field respectively. Ian Desmond hit a liner that just cleared the left-field wall to lead off the second.
Kazmir’s evening ended in the third. After yielding a leadoff double to Rendon, he walked Zimmerman and Werth to load the bases with no outs.
Kazmir got Adam LaRoche to ground sharply to second for a double play, as Rendon scored. While throwing the fourth ball to Desmond, he uncorked a wild pitch, letting Zimmerman come home.
“(Kazmir) either threw the ball off the plate or caught way too much of the plate,” Francona said. “’Cause he had good velocity, was real strong, good slider.”
It didn’t take the Indians all that long to get Kazmir off the hook. They got one back in their half of the third on an RBI single by Jason Kipnis. Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds hit consecutive homers in the fourth to cut it to 5-3.
Then in the fifth, Cleveland caught and passed the Nationals. After Aviles (3 hits) had singled with one out, Zimmermann retired the next batter. But Kipnis and Swisher followed with singles, making it 5-4. Michael Brantley then split the gap between the center and right fielders for a two-run double to give the Tribe a 6-5 edge.
“We did a really good job of (getting) back into that ballgame, because (Zimmermann) is one of the best in the game” Francona said. “It got real exciting around the seventh inning, and we didn’t finish it out. He’s a tough guy to come back against.”
Aviles then atoned for his own error by making a stellar play to preserve the lead. With Bryan Shaw on the mound, Aviles booted Desmond’s grounder to short to begin the sixth. But with Desmond on third and two outs, pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi blooped a ball off the end of his bat and to the left side of the infield. Reynolds ran to his left from his third-base position, but couldn’t catch it, as the ball floated over his glove. But Aviles bare-handed the ball and fired to first to nip Lombardozzi.
Brantley’s diving catch of Werth’s blooper to left-center ended the seventh inning, after Cody Allen had come on to pitch
Matt Albers also worked for the Tribe.
Craig Stammen and Ian Krol also pitched for Washington.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.