CLEVELAND (AP) — Chris Perez wanted the heart of Colorado’s order. He needed it, really.
One night after giving up a game-winning homer in the ninth, Cleveland’s cold-blooded closer hoped to face the Rockies’ top hitters with the game on the line again.
He got his wish. And this time, he came out on top.
“That’s the kind of guy I am,” he said.
Perez retired Ty Wigginton, who homered twice, on a routine fly to center for the final out as the Indians avoided a series sweep by beating the Colorado Rockies 4-3 to conclude a successful homestand Wednesday night before leaving on a nine-game trip to three NL cities.
Josh Tomlin came through with another quality outing and designated hitter Travis Hafner hit a two-run homer in his last start for a while to lead the Indians, who squeaked out the finale after losing a pair of one-run games.
Tomlin (9-4), who has been a model of consistency, allowed three runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings. The right-hander has gone at least six innings in 14 of 15 starts, and a minimum of five in all 27 as a major leaguer. Tomlin had little trouble with the Rockies except for Wiggington, who hit a solo homer in the fifth and a two-run shot in the seventh to pull Colorado within 4-3.
That’s when Indians manager Manny Acta turned to his relief corps, who have dubbed themselves “The Bullpen Mafia,” a crew led by Perez.
Vinnie Pestano and Tony Sipp got the Indians to the ninth for Perez, who took the loss on Tuesday night, when he gave up a tiebreaking homer in the ninth to Seth Smith. This time, Perez struck out Jason Giambi and Troy Tulowitzki — Colorado’s Nos. 3 and 4 hitters — before Smith, who hardly missed a pitch in the series, lined a two-out double off the wall in right.
“I knew he hit it pretty good just by the sound of it,” Perez said. “Luckily, it hit the wall.”
Perez, though, regrouped to get Wigginton for his 18th save, ending a game the Indians wanted badly.
“A loss would have been devastating,” said Sipp. “4-2 sounds a lot better than 3-3 on this homestand.”
Perez didn’t mind giving up the double to Smith, who batted .462 with two doubles, two homers, three RBIs and multiple line drives in the series. The right-hander didn’t want to give up another win for the Indians, who are again playing solid ball after a rough start to June.
“Game on the line again with the same guy up,” Perez said. “That’s why we play. He’s gotten the best of me two nights, but we still got the ‘W.’ That’s important, and luckily he’s in the NL and we won’t have to face him again — unless it’s in the World Series.”
Hafner, sorely missed by the Indians when he was on the disabled list, homered in the sixth off Jason Hammel (4-7). Unfortunately, the Indians will only be able to use him as a pinch-hitter during their upcoming trip to San Francisco, Arizona and Cincinnati. His laser-shot into the stands put Cleveland up 4-1.
“That was very impressive,” Acta said. “He’s at his peak right now. He’s so locked in at the plate. It’s just sad we are not going to be able to see him out there for nine days. Very sad.”
Hafner recently returned after missing one month with a strained side muscle and his presence in Cleveland’s lineup can’t be underestimated. With him anchoring the middle of the order, opposing pitchers have to be more careful and all the Indians see better pitches.
The Indians are 22-13 when he starts.
Despite the loss, the Rockies came away satisfied in taking two of three before heading to New York for a three-game series with the Yankees.
“We would have liked to have gotten a sweep,” Wigginton said. “It didn’t work out. I guess now we sleep this one off on the off-day and get ready to play in the Big Apple.”
Tomlin allowed just one hit — a third-inning single — in taking a shutout into the fifth, when Wigginton ended it with his eighth homer. With one out, Wigginton sent Tomlin’s first pitch to left-center, his line drive barely clearing the 19-foot-high outfield wall to bring the Rockies within 2-1.
Blanked for two innings, the Indians scored twice in the third, getting one run on Grady Sizemore’s RBI single and the other on a mistake by Hammel.
Travis Buck led off with a single and Jack Hannahan walked. Sizemore followed with his run-scoring single to center, and the Indians seemed to be in shape for a big inning before Hammel got two outs. With runners at second and third, the right-hander put two quick strikes on Hafner before Hammel inexplicably stopped in the middle of his windup and was called for a balk, bringing in Hannahan to make it 2-0.
Notes: Rockies 1B Todd Helton got a planned night off. … Acta believes Perez should be an All-Star. Perez has converted 18 of 19 save chances, including 12 straight. “Can you pitch any better in a closer’s role?” Acta said. “I know a lot of our guys don’t have “names,” but if you look at his numbers, he can help the AL club.” … Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd spent time before the game reminiscing in Cleveland’s dugout with Indians president Mark Shapiro and former catcher Sandy Alomar. O’Dowd was in the Indians’ front office from 1988-98. … Following an off day, the Rockies will open a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Friday. … Indians 1B Matt LaPorta, out with an ankle sprain, should be able to get out of a walking boot by the weekend before easing back into baseball activities.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)