Victor Martinez celebrates his game-winning hit.
It took Victor Martinez 666 games to finally get a walk-off hit. The Indians' all-star catcher celebrated it, too, after singling with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday to give Cleveland a 4-3 win over the New York Yankees. That it took the career .302 hitter that many games to do it is even more remarkable than the way the Indians and Yankees played this see-saw game.
Cleveland bolted to a 3-0 lead, the Yankees tied it with one swing, then each team built opportunities and wasted them until Martinez delivered.
Masahide Kobayashi (1-0, 1.74 ERA) pitched two scoreless innings to earn his first win in America. The right-hander, one of Japan's all-time best relief pitchers with 227 saves in his native country, signed a two-year contract with Cleveland in November.
He wiggled out of a jam in the top of the ninth with a bit of good fortune. With runners on first and second, the Yankees' Derek Jeter hit a shot up the middle, past Kobayashi. But the ball hit the side of the pitching mound, deflecting it right to second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, who stepped on the bag and fired to first to complete an inning-ending double play.
In the bottom half, Grady Sizemore (.266) hit a one-out single and went to second on a single by David Dellucci (.271). A wild pitch by Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 6.48 ERA) moved both runners up and the Yankees then decided to fill the open base by issuing an intentional walk to Travis Hafner (.233).
"When Victor came up, we knew something good was going to happen," Dellucci told reporters afterwards.
Martinez (.373) stroked an outside fastball the other way, easily scoring Sizemore. The Indians' catcher raised his right arm in celebration as he ran towards first base, then was pummeled by joyous teammates.
Cleveland mounted threats in the sixth and eighth innings, but couldn't score.
With runners on second and third in the sixth, Casey Blake lined into a double play. His liner was caught by third baseman Alberto Gonzalez, who then dove to the bag to force out Jhonny Peralta and end the inning.
In the eighth, Martinez drew a walk and was forced at second on a ground ball to short by Ryan Garko.
There was only one nasty little problem, however. After shortstop Jeter ranged into the hole to get the ball, his throw was never handled by second baseman Robinson Cano. Umpire Derryl Cousins didn't the baseball rolling up Cano's glove and bounce away and called Martinez out.
Indians manager Eric Wedge went out to argue and was ejected. TV replays clearly supported Wedge's argument.
Jamey Carroll ran for Garko and stole second as Peralta struck out. Cabrera was given an intentional walk and the strategy by Yankees manager Joe Girardi paid off as New York reliever Kyle Farnsworth struck out Franklin Gutierrez.
Cleveland took a 3-0 lead in the second inning off Yankees starter Ian Kennedy.
Peralta and Cabrera singled and both moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Gutierrez. Kennedy then walked both Blake and Sizemore to force in one run. Dellucci followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0 and Hafner's bloop single to left made it 3-0.
Jeremy Sowers, called up from Triple-A Buffalo to make his first start of the year for the Indians, held the Yankees scoreless for 5 1/3 innings, but left after loading the bases in the sixth. Jeter singled, Sowers (5.06 ERA) hit Jason Giambi with a pitch and walked Shelley Duncan, the son of former Indians catcher Dave Duncan. Shelley was called up from the minors, too, after going 4-for-7 with two homers and six RBI in his last two games against Buffalo for the Yankees' farm team at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Jensen Lewis (4.15 ERA), who was Sowers' college teammate at Vanderbilt, came on and struck out pinch-hitter Cano, but pinch-hitter Jorge Posada lined a 2-2 pitch for a three-run triple to left, tying it at 3.