9th-inning rally gets 7th win in row

Franklin Gutierrez gets his game-winning hit.

All that's gone wrong for the Indians in 2008 seems forgotten during a season-high winning streak that reached seven straight Sunday night with a 4-3 win in Texas. Is it a late-season mirage or a team rebuilding its foundation for 2009? Management and fans certainly want to believe Franklin Gutierrez's game-winning hit and Anthony Reyes' strong seven innings of pitching are very much real.

They are real, of course. Those accomplishments Sunday, in addition to the timely hitting of late by Jhonny Peralta, Ryan Garko and Shin-Soo Choo shows what all of these players can do. Jensen Lewis's good work in the closer's role, the solid if unspectacular work of starter Zach Jackson and all the other good things of late are very much real.

The question remains: Can they all do it for the length of a long season?

After all, the Indians entered 2008 full of confidence that the team would build upon its 96 wins and AL Central title of a year ago.

Then reality, in the form of injuries to key players Jake Westbrook, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Fausto Carmona took hold. Reality, as in the prolonged ineffectiveness of relievers Joe Borowski (until he was released) and Rafael Betancourt along with the failure of many second-tier players to step up when others were hurt showed, too.

There's no question that the comeback win against the Rangers on Sunday was everything manager Eric Wedge wants from his club.

Well, everything except for the eighth-inning meltdown by Juan Rincon and Rafael Betancourt that allowed Texas to tie the score. The continued ineffectiveness of the bullpen has been much more to blame for Cleveland's mediocre season than the injuries.

Some timely hitting earlier in the year to help pick up the poor relief pitching could have avoided many losses, too. That's exactly what Gutierrez's hit did.

Once again, the Indians got good starting pitching. That has been the one constant throughout the year -- even with the trade of ace CC Sabathia, the loss of Westbrook and Carmona.

Reyes (3.23 ERA) worked seven strong innings, throwing a season-high 107 pitches.

"I thought he threw the ball very well," Wedge said. "Over the last couple of innings, he picked up a little steam."

Reyes gave up one run, four hits and four walks, striking out four. That lowered his ERA with Cleveland to 2.22 since being acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals on July 26. The right-hander, who prides himself on not giving in to hitters, probably wasn't thrilled to issue that many walks. But he's certainly happy to be with the Tribe.

"It seems like I'm having a little more fun here," said Reyes. "I'm able to relax better. It feels like the pressure's off."

Gutierrez, who has wilted far too often in less pressure situations than what he faced in the ninth, came through, too.

Garko (.257) opened the inning with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Andy Gonzalez. Kelly Shoppach (.260) bunted Gonzalez to second base and Gutierrez (.234) bounced a single up the middle to put Cleveland ahead.

Then Betancourt (3-4, 5.34 ERA), who had walked in the tying run, pitched a perfect ninth.

Cleveland (62-67) has won 13 of its last 16 games. That's exciting news.

Just remember that it includes sweeping three in a row from the Rangers, who have dropped 13 of their last 17.

It includes a three-game sweep of Kansas City, which for a time was ahead of the Indians in the standings before falling back to its customary last-place standing in the AL Central.

It includes taking three in a row at Toronto, where the offensively-challenged Blue Jays are batting Baltimore for the basement in the AL East. And it t includes splitting four games with those pitching-poor Orioles.

The only opponent headed to the postseason during the Indians' upsurge was the Los Angeles Angels, who still lead the AL West by light years despite dropping two of three in Cleveland last weekend. Of course the Angels, not being challenged at all, went into a little funk of their own the past couple of weeks, losing seven of nine before taking two straight this weekend from Minnesota.

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