HOUSTON -- Indians closer Chris Perez must have an excitement clause in his contract. Perez entered Sunday's game with a one-run lead against the offensively challenged Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Before the Indians could escape with a 5-4 win and Perez pick up his first save since Opening Day, the Astros loaded the bases with one out, the potential winning run in scoring position at second base.
Perez struck out Chris Carter and retired Jason Castro on a hard grounder to third to end the game. Close call.
"A one-run save is more difficult," Perez said. "Just get the job done. I don't care how it is."
Houston's Rick Ankiel hit Perez's first pitch for a double to center, then Perez hit Matt Dominguez on a 3-2 pitch, Marwin Gonzalez sacrificed both runners into scoring position and Jose Altuve was intentionally walked. Tighten your seat belt.
"With a three-run lead you can come in, sort of feel out the strike zone a little bit," Perez said. "Ankiel, I made a good pitch but it caught too much of the fat part of the plate and he did a good job getting on it. I wasn't going to let Dominguez get a hit.
"My ball was going all over the place today. First and second, nobody out, I don't feel comfortable throwing strikes yet. You can't simulate the intensity, the at-bats the hitters are taking on the other side, laying off close pitches. You can't replicate that."
Manager Terry Francona realized how tough a save it would be after Ankiel's double.
"All of a sudden, first-pitch double and you're not settling in," Francona said. "You never can with a one-run lead. But he's pitching from the get-go. That's tough to do. He wasn't commanding very well, and he knew it."
Mark Reynolds, starting his first game of the season at third base, made the key play on the hard grounder off Castro's bat, throwing to first to end the game.
"Luckily, by the time I looked [Reynolds] had already scooped it up," Perez said. "It was a bullet. I was happy I didn't turn around and see it in the outfield. He made a great play."
Reynolds, a former third baseman for Arizona, had played either first base or designated hitter for the Indians. He said he still takes ground balls every day, trying to stay sharp.
"I was in the right spot," he said of the grounder from Castro. "I haven't played there in a long time. After I got my first grounder out of the way, the nerves kind of went away and I got back to my old self."
It was a tough defeat for the struggling Astros.
"You load the bases up and there's one out, you're saying to yourself, 'Worst-case scenario we're hoping we can tie the game,'" Houston manager Bo Porter said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen. Their guy made a good pitch and [Carter] didn't get it done, and we move on."
Reynolds also made a contribution offensively, hitting a two-out home run to left center in the seventh inning to break a tie at 4. Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana and Drew Stubbs also hit home runs for the Tribe.
"Off the bat I didn't know if I got it or not," he said of the homer. "I saw the umpire give the signal it was a homer."
Then the umps decided they would take a look at a replay.
"When I got to the dugout, I asked the guys if it cleared that [yellow] line or not," Reynolds said. "Some guys were watching on TV (in the clubhouse) and said it was good."
Reynolds finished the series going 5-for-10, with two homers and three walks.
"It's a good day, a good series," he said. "I'm not going to take too much from it."
Francona was certainly happy to have him aboard. Reynolds signed with Cleveland as a free agent in the offseason.
"I didn't really know him coming in," Francona said. "He's versatile. He's been a pleasure. Whatever you ask him to do, he does it with a smile."
Francona credited a defensive play by center fielder Stubbs in the first inning as the key to the game.
Houston had already scored two runs on a Fernando Martinez home run, and after Castro singled, Brandon Laird hit a drive to deep center. Stubbs ran down the ball and hit his cutoff man to double up Castro at first.
"In my opinion Drew Stubbs saved the game," Francona said. "They've got a runner on first and a ball that's going to hit the wall and be a triple, and Drew catches it and doubles the guy off. That gave us a chance to win the ball game."
Stubbs had played many games at Minute Maid for Cincinnati.
"You never know with a big outfield there," he said. "Balls that are normally home runs, you can track down. To be honest, I didn't think about [a double play]. Just try to get the ball in. I've been in that situation before [as a runner] where you don't think a guy's going to catch it, and you're looking to score from first."
Stubbs' play also allowed starter Ubaldo Jimenez to stay in the game past the first inning. After Stubbs' play, Jimenez retired the next 13 in a row.
"He was pretty good," Francona said. "More good than not good. He started out a little rocky. [Martinez] hit that short porch."
Jimenez wasn't very sharp in his last two starts, surrendering 14 earned runs in a total of six innings and absorbing two losses.
"You never feel happy when you're pitching like that," he said. "You're not giving your team a chance to win. I know it was something I could fix. Work a little more [between starts]."
Jimenez didn't get upset when Martinez, Houston's second hitter, hit the two-run homer.
"No," he said. "I made a good pitch and he put a good swing on it. He hit it to [the shortest] part of the stadium."
Jimenez did not want to leave the game after throwing just 65 pitches, but he had given up a single and triple to open the sixth inning, giving up four runs.
"You know I wouldn't be happy," he said of coming out of the game. "Starting pitchers want to keep going. I did [feel strong]. But it's not my call. I threw everything -- four-season fastball, two-seam fastball, split, slider."
The Indians ended a five-game losing streak Saturday and now head to the Chicago White Sox with two wins in a row.
"Those are good days, when guys are picking each other up," Francona said of Sunday's win. "Guys are in different positions [defensively], and we found a way to win a game. That goes a long way. People ask me why I came back to be a manager. Days like today."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.