CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona paid the Nationals the ultimate compliment before Tuesday's game, saying Washington is "built for October baseball." In the opener of this series between potential postseason teams, the Indians looked like they fit that description as well, pulling off a 7-6 walk-off win at Progressive Field.
Francisco Lindor finished off Washington in the bottom of the ninth with a one-out single through the right side of the infield, scoring Chris Gimenez from third base to set off an on-field celebration. Lindor pumped his arms as he skipped up the first-base line, as fireworks popped overhead. Cleveland now has five walk-off wins this year, and has won 15 of its last 19 home games.
"I know this is going to be a shocking announcement: That's not how we drew it up," Francona quipped. "There were so many things that happened in that game that were kind of peculiar that, again, hitting last sure helps. My goodness, there were a lot of balls going every which way."
Lindor's game-winner completed a three-run rally in the ninth, which began with a leadoff walk by Jose Ramirez against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon. Rookie Tyler Naquin then cut Washington's lead to one run with a pinch-hit RBI double that split the left-center-field gap. The Indians tied things up when first baseman Ryan Zimmerman made a throwing error on a bunt from Gimenez, allowing Naquin to score from second.
"It was great. Huge win," Lindor said. "We battled today. We battled from the first guy in the lineup to guys that weren't playing. They came in and were a huge help to our win today. Same thing with the bullpen. Bullpen came up huge today. It was a great overall win."
The loss was the sixth in the past eight games for the Nationals. For the Indians, the comeback snapped a three-game losing streak, which equaled the longest drought of the year for the American League Central leaders.
"I'm lost for words," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "That's an ugly way to lose one."
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez worked into the seventh inning, and Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos each launched a home run, but Washington watched Cleveland slowly chip away. Indians starter Danny Salazar was on the hook for four runs (three earned) in four-plus innings, marking his shortest outing of the season.
In the first, the Nationals struck for two runs -- one on an RBI double by Jayson Werth -- taking advantage of one of two errors made on the night by Tribe third baseman Juan Uribe. Rendon hit his 12th homer (a two-run shot) off Salazar in the fourth, while Ramos' 15th home run led off the sixth against reliever Jeff Manship. Washington added an insurance run in the ninth, thanks to a pair of errors.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Blown save for Papelbon: Papelbon blew his third save of the season, allowing three runs without recording an out, after having allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning Sunday -- a pair of outings that has caused his ERA to skyrocket from 2.56 to 4.18.
"I wouldn't call it a stretch by any means," Papelbon said. "I'd call it a couple bad outings. I've had them before in my career. You keep going, you keep chugging."
How much longer the Nationals can go with Papelbon in the ninth inning is unclear. His velocity has diminished at 37 years old, and he is not missing as many bats as he once did. More >
Otero's escape: After Manship allowed a leadoff homer to Ramos, followed by a double (Werth) and base hit (Rendon), Cleveland handed the ball to Dan Otero in the sixth. Otero quickly generated two outs with his first pitch, which Zimmerman lined back to the mound. The reliever snared the liner and then fired the ball to first to double up Rendon for a double play. Otero then escaped by inducing a groundout from Danny Espinosa, keeping Washington's lead at 5-2.
"Our starters have picked us up all year," Otero said. "Any time they don't have their best stuff, or can't get through seven or eight innings like they usually do, it's nice to go in there and help the team out and keep the other team at bay, and let the offense do their job."
Down, and then out: Rendon fell behind in the count, 0-2, against Salazar in the fourth inning, but then took advantage of a mistake by the Tribe's starter. Salazar returned to his signature split-changeup, but elevated the pitch rather than burying it low, where catcher Roberto Perez was set up. Rendon drilled the pitch out to center field to put the Nationals up, 2-0. Francona lifted Salazar from the game after 85 pitches.
"Everything was hard for [Salazar] tonight," Francona said. "It just didn't look like he was in sync with anything. ... I just thought, you know what? We're going to obviously lean on him the last two months. Sometimes, rather than make him slug his way through another inning, let's go ahead and get him out and see if we can make it work."
Back-to-back quality outings for Gio: In his first two starts after the All-Star break, Gonzalez has given the Nationals a pair of strong outings to bounce back from a rough first half. Despite a rocky first inning, Gonzalez lasted into the seventh and held the Indians to three runs on five hits. Combine that with a strong start in his last outing against the Dodgers -- six innings of one-run ball -- and Gonzalez has begun the second half on the right note.
"I was taught to, when that happens, you slash. You try to keep it in the middle of the field. So, in the ninth, that was my first opportunity to actually do that in a game. Obviously, it worked out for us. That could've went either way, but fortunately, I was able to get enough of that ball to find some green, where the defense wasn't. That's my goal." -- Rajai Davis, on his slashed bunt single in the ninth
"My confidence in this game has never fluctuated, and it never will. I think that's something that's never really happened to me." -- Papelbon
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The home run by Rendon marked the third time this season that Salazar has given up a dinger on an 0-2 count. That moved the Indians right-hander into a tie for the Major League lead for homers allowed in such a count.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals:Stephen Strasburg (13-1, 2.83 ERA) will take the mound for the Nats in Wednesday's series finale at 12:10 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. And while Strasburg may no longer be undefeated after losing his last start, he is still enjoying perhaps his best season. He is striking out 11 batters per nine innings, third best in the Majors.
Indians: In the finale of this brief two-game set between potential playoff teams, Cleveland will counter with right-hander Carlos Carrasco (7-3, 2.31 ERA) on Wednesday. Carrasco spun six shutout innings in his last outing last Wednesday against Kansas City, and has gone 5-1 with a 1.16 ERA over his last six turns for the Tribe.