ANAHEIM -- It was time to call it a night.
Drew Stubbs lifted a pitch from Angels pitcher Joe Blanton deep to left field, where the ball cleared the wall to cheers from the sparse crowd of the Tribe faithful that stuck this one out. In a contest that began Tuesday night and ended Wednesday morning, Stubbs' two-run home run propelled the Indians to a tiring 4-1 victory in 14 innings at Angel Stadium.
"I think everybody kind of exhaled a sigh of relief," Stubbs said.
There were plenty of players who saved the Tribe from slipping to the loss column in a game that dragged through five hours and 17 minutes. Credit Carlos Santana's home run in the seventh inning and reliever Joe Smith critical pickoff play in the eighth. Look no further than the game-saving defensive plays made by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera or center fielder Michael Bourn.
There was young starter Danny Salazar setting the tone with another strong entry into his brief big league resume, and the eight relievers who followed to keep the string of zeros going long into the night. Most notable was the bullpen's showing in the 10th inning, when Matt Albers, Rich Hill and Bryan Shaw got three straight outs to escape a bases-loaded jam that, at first, made an Angels win seem inevitable.
"It was a team win," said Bourn.
That is what had a tired Terry Francona smiling in the visiting manager's office after midnight on the West Coast.
"Both teams kept playing right down to the end," Francona said. "We had some guys dig pretty deep. That was a really fun game to be a part of. A lot of guys did a lot of good things."
The victory was satisfying, but it also proved timely.
With the win, which improved the Tribe's mark to 5-3 on its three-city road trip with one game to go, the Indians pulled to within 3 1/2 games of the A's for the American League's second Wild Card spot. Thanks to the Twins defeating the Tigers, Cleveland (68-58) also moved to within 5 1/2 games of first in the AL Central.
"Every game from here on out is equally important," Stubbs said. "We're trying to make the playoffs. A game like that, a real gut-wrencher on the field, that would've been a tough one to lose."
Just ask the Angels.
"This is crushing," Los Angeles lefty C.J. Wilson said.
Wilson gave the Angels 7 1/3 innings, in which his lone blemish was a game-tying solo home run to Santana in the seventh. The shot to straightaway center field -- Santana's 15th homer on the season -- eluded outfielder Peter Bourjos' glove, which came off his hand and fell over the wall on his leaping attempt to snare the ball from the air.
That home run answered the leadoff blast that J.B. Shuck provided for the Angels two pitches into Salazar's outing. Salazar carried on unfazed, navigating his way through 5 1/3 innings with three hits scattered and seven strikeouts tallied. Dating back to 1921, the rookie's 29 strikeouts are the second-most by an Indians pitcher in his first four career games, trailing only Herb Score's 40 in '55.
"He threw the ball really well," Francona said of Salazar. "He gave up a leadoff homer again, but other than that, he was really good."
The Indians and Angels combined to go 1-for-18 with runners in scoring position, stranding a total of 29 runners along the way. The bigger issue for Cleveland was simply getting a hit with runners on base. The Tribe went 1-for-21 through the first 13 innings in that regard. Fortunately for the Indians' struggling lineup, the pitching staff spun 13 shutout frames leading up to the game's finish.
Los Angeles threatened to spoil things for the Tribe, but Cleveland countered at every turn.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Angels had two runners aboard with one out, but Smith spun and fired to Cabrera, picking Josh Hamilton off at second base. That play proved critical at the time, considering Kole Calhoun followed with a single to right that would have easily plated Hamilton for the go-ahead run. Smith stopped the Halos' push by striking out Chris Nelson to end the frame.
"I saw Hamilton, he had a big lead off second," said Cabrera, who called for the play. "So I thought we had a chance to make the out. Joe made a good throw to second."
The Angels nearly had a walk-off win with two outs in the ninth inning, when Erick Aybar sent a sharp grounder up the middle that appeared destined for center field. With Hank Conger hustling home for the potential winning run, Cabrera came through again, making a slick sliding grab to rob Aybar of the hit and throwing to first base in time for the out.
"I knew I had to get the ball," Cabrera said. "If the ball goes through, we might've lost."
In the 12th inning, the Halos came close to tasting victory again when Conger crushed a pitch to right-center with two runners on and two outs. Bourn raced toward the wall and jumped for a highlight-reel grab that kept the contest alive.
"We weren't giving in," Bourn said. "It's easy to give in at that time, because it's the 14th inning. You're like, 'Oh, man.' But we really wanted to win. We were able to come through."
At 3:05 a.m. back home in Cleveland, Stubbs delivered his decisive shot.