It's been a forgettable season for both Travis Fryman and Russell Branyan. So it's safe to say one Saturday afternoon at Jacobs Field will stay in their memories for a long time.
Fryman and Branyan drove in all of Cleveland's runs as the Indians pulled out a dramatic 9-8 win over the Minnesota Twins to clinch at least a tie for the American League Central Division title.
Branyan homered twice and collected a career-high six RBIs. Fryman won the game with a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the ninth that sparked bedlam in the sellout crowd of 42,417.
"That's been the Cleveland Indians all the way through the '90s and into the next decade it seems," Fryman said. "Right since Jacobs Field opened (in 1994), whether I was with Detroit or since I came over here (in 1998), this team is never out of a game."
With eight games to play, the Indians have a 7 1/2 -game lead over the Twins in the Central -- an advantage borne from their 13-5 domination of the season series. The Tribe can wrap up their sixth division title in seven years with a win today. Bartolo Colon (13-11) pitches against Minnesota's Rick Reed (4-4) in a matchup of former Buffalo Bisons stars.
After falling behind in the count, 0 and 2, against Minnesota closer Latroy Hawkins, Fryman fouled off a pitch and took another for a ball. He then roped a fastball inside the third-base line to score Roberto Alomar and pinch-runner Jolbert Cabrera with the game-winning runs and give the Tribe their 14th last at-bat win at home this season.
"It was almost impossible to see when I got up there," Fryman said of the late-afternoon shadows that were creeping over the mound. "I was just trying to see the ball, trying to get one below my hands. He throws 95-96 mph. When he throws that hard in those shadows, it seems like it's going 196."
The hit was the sweetest moment of the season for Fryman, who spent two stints in Buffalo with the Bisons this year while trying to battle loose bodies in his elbow that have hampered his throwing from third base and taken away most of his power.
"It's good to contribute because I don't think I've done a whole lot," said Fryman, who has just three home runs and 38 RBIs this season after collecting 22 homers and a career-high 106 RBIs last year. "It's just been the most frustrating year you could have, and I've been wondering how much longer I can take this."
How much longer the Indians can take Branyan flailing away at pitches is also a big question mark. He's seen limited duty at third since Fryman returned and was in left field Saturday only because of injuries to Marty Cordova (wrist) and Juan Gonzalez (ear infection).
Branyan was just 2 for his last 27 and had not homered since Aug. 5 until he got a chance Tuesday against Toronto. He went 3 for 3 with a home run in that game. Then came Saturday.
He had an RBI single in the fourth to help cut a 3-0 Cleveland deficit to 3-2. He pounded a two-out, three-run homer in the fifth off starter Joe Mays to give the Tribe a 5-3 lead. Then he added a majestic two-run shot in the seventh with two outs off reliever Mike Duvall to forge a 7-7 tie.
It was just Branyan's fifth homer of the year against a lefty. He has 14 against right-handers.
"I get pumped when a team brings a left-hander in against me," Branyan said. "It's a feat in itself to have success and hit lefties at the major-league level. I always felt I hit them pretty well in the minors, but I haven't had too many chances up here."
Minnesota took an 8-7 lead in the eighth on Torii Hunter's opposite-field homer to right with two outs off John Rocker. The Indians got things going in the ninth when Alomar and Jim Thome singled off Eddie Guardado (7-1) and Hawkins relieved.
"We certainly needed that one," said acting manager Grady Little, who is at the helm while manager Charlie Manuel remains hospitalized while fighting an abdominal infection. "That was outstanding. Hopefully, we can get the job done (today)."
The Indians' next win will put them back in the October mix. After five straight tries from 1995-1999, they fell one game short of the wild-card last year. Their chance at retribution comes today.
"Players come here for a specific reason and it's to get to postseason," Fryman said. "That's a testament to this organization. This is what you play for -- to play big games in the fall when the weather cools off. It's been a tough year for me and it hasn't been much fun. This was fun."