ST. LOUIS — Chris Perez insisted it was no big deal that his 20th consecutive save came against his old team. The body language begged to differ.
The Cleveland Indians closer finished off a 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday while battling an upset stomach that left him spitting up fluid between pitches. After getting Adron Chambers on a pop-up with a man on first for the final out, Perez went down to one knee.
“I drank some warm water and I ran out there and it just didn’t settle well,” Perez said. “What am I going to do, call timeout and run into the dugout?
“If you remember, a couple years ago in spring training it was the same situation. So I need to stay away from warm water.”
More photos below.
Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis hit a tiebreaking three-run homer off closer Jason Motte in the ninth after the Cardinals left the bases loaded in the eighth. Vinnie Pestano (3-0) walked three straight batters with one out in the eighth but recovered to strike out No. 3 hitter Yadier Molina and cleanup man Allen Craig.
“That’s the game right there,” Kipnis said. “I thought both starting pitchers did a great job and it just came down to who can execute late.”
Carlos Beltran homered for the second straight day to increase his National League-leading total to 18, and Joe Kelly allowed one run in five-plus innings in his major league debut for the Cardinals. St. Louis is the only major league team that has not won a series over the Indians, who are 14-6 overall and 8-4 on the road against the Cardinals.
“It’s a little bit of everything right now,” Beltran said. “We’ve been battling injuries and things like that, but at the same time we just need to find a way to play better. There’s no excuses.”
The Cardinals have lost eight of 12 and totaled just five runs in the series. They went the last two without cleanup hitter Matt Holliday, who could return from mid-back spasms Tuesday after the team’s off day today.
“Guys are grinding. They’re fighting, and I’m going to continue to stay optimistic because that’s what I believe,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s not a facade — it’s only a matter of time before we take off.
“When we take off, it’s going to be a good run.”
Michael Brantley extended his hitting streak to 18 games and Ubaldo Jimenez had a season-best seven strikeouts in seven strong innings for Cleveland.
The Indians had scored just one run in 19 innings before the ninth, when pinch hitter Johnny Damon hit a leadoff single and Asdrubal Cabrera walked with one out. Kipnis hit his 10th homer on a 2-2 fastball from Motte (3-3).
On Saturday, Motte got Kipnis to fly out to right on a pitch that he thought had a slightly better location.
“It’s just one of those things,” Motte said. “He got the barrel on it. It happens.”
The Indians won despite going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and 2-for-18 with men on base. Perez, who once competed with Motte for the St. Louis closer spot, has been flawless since blowing a save on Opening Day.
“I enjoyed pitching out there today, beating my former team, but at the end of the day I was just trying to get the save,” Perez said. “If I go out there too amped up and trying to do too much, I wouldn’t have had a good outing.”
Jimenez had his first walk-free game of the season, after coming in with 43 walks in 62⅔ innings. The right-hander has walked just one in his last two starts covering 13⅔ innings and faced only three three-ball counts against the Cardinals. The first came in the first inning against Beltran, who belted a 3-1 pitch an estimated 428 feet to right-center.
Jimenez then retired 13 in a row, including five strikeouts in a span of eight at-bats.
Kelly, who replaced the injured Jaime Garcia in the rotation, left to a standing ovation after Brantley singled to start the sixth and kept his hit streak alive.
“It felt like another start,” said Kelly, who began last season at the Class A level. “I didn’t think I was going to sleep last night and I got great sleep.
“I was relaxed.”
Brantley is batting .357 (25-for-70) during his hit streak, the longest current run in the majors and two shy of the season’s longest by Adam Jones of Baltimore that ended May 30. Brantley can match his career best, set in 2010, at Cincinnati on Tuesday.
- Longtime Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan’s family had an impromptu reunion and watched Shelley Duncan start in LF for Cleveland. Shelley Duncan was 2-for-4.
- Pestano has 10 consecutive scoreless outings covering 10 innings.