CLEVELAND -- There was a time when Jack Hannahan did not seem the ideal hitter to have up in a critical situation. That time has come and gone. Right now, given the way the third baseman has been swinging the bat, there is no one the Indians would rather see stepping into the box.
As it happened, Hannahan was the man at the plate at a crucial turn in Cleveland's 4-3 victory over the Royals on Tuesday night at Progressive Field. And, as he has done so often out of the gates, Hannahan came through in a big way, delivering the decisive blow that led the Tribe to a win.
"He's flying high, confidence wise," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We want to see him up there. He's already been huge for us in a few games. His heartbeat is probably a lot slower than a lot of the yougner kids that we have here."
Hannahan came through with a two-run double off Royals left-hander Jonathan Sanchez in the fifth inning, capitalizing on one of Cleveland's many scoring chances to push the Tribe to a 4-1 lead. That advantage withstood a Kansas City rally against Indians relievers Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez, and helped clinch Cleveland's eighth win in its past 10 contests.
Veteran sinkerballer Derek Lowe set the tone with a solid six-inning performance for the Indians (9-6), but it was Hannahan's heroics that once again stole the show. Through the first few weeks of the season, the third baseman -- known mostly for his skills as a high-caliber defender -- has been a steady force with the bat.
Hannahan's confidence is soaring, but to what height?
"It's up there," Hannahan said. "You've got to have confidence in this game. It's hard enough as it is. The more confidence you have, the more you're going to succeed. I've been feeling pretty good."
Hannahan is smart enough, however, not to get to wrapped up in a hot start.
"It's such a long season," Hannahan said. "It's early. I just want to go out every day and keep doing what I've been doing. Same approach. Good things should happen, hopefully."
With his 2-for-3 showing against the Royals (3-14), who have lost 12 games in a row for the first time since 2006, Hannahan increased his season batting average to .364. The two runs he drove in upped his team-leading production to 13 RBIs through 13 games played. Hannahan is riding a seven-game hitting streak and has gone 7-for-12 so far this year with runners in scoring position.
It is not simply a hot start, though.
Dating back to Aug. 13 of last season, Hannahan has hit .367 (44-for-120) with four home runs and 30 RBIs in 39 games for the Indians. This is coming from a player who entered this season with a .213 career batting average.
Hannahan was the offensive highlight on an evening when there were few for the Indians. Cleveland went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position as a team, stranding 13 runners along the way. Sanchez (1-1) labored with his command, issuing seven walks and hitting one batter before bowing out of the game upon yielding four runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Acta focused on the end result.
"We would've loved to score more runs," Acta said. "But, we won. That's what counts."
Lowe (3-1) picked up the win after limiting Kansas City to one run on eight hits in a 96-pitch effort. The Royals' lone breakthrough against the right-hander came in the fourth inning, when Mike Moustakas singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a base hit from Mitch Maier. Beyond that, Lowe sidestepped a handful of dicey situations.
"They've had  hits in two games against me and somehow we've scored enough runs," Lowe said. "As long as you can stay away from that one big inning. They had a chance there with the bases loaded [in the fourth] and we were able to get out of it and kind of keep the momentum going."
Maier's hit pulled the contest into a 1-1 deadlock, which the Indians broke with their three-run burst in the fifth. After walking the bases loaded for the second time in the game, Sanchez allowed a sacrifice fly to Shelley Duncan that put the Tribe ahead, 2-1. Hannahan followed by ripping a 3-2 changeup into the right-center-field gap for his two-run double.
As Hannahan pulled up at second base, his signature Irish jig blared through the Progressive Field speakers. The music serves as the last-call song at a friend's bar back in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn. These days, it is becoming more recognizable as Hannahan continues to collect clutch hits from the lower half of Cleveland's lineup.
"He's been having quality at-bats," Acta said. "He's staying within himself. He's playing his game. He's not getting too big. He's not thinking about hitting the three-run homer. He's taking balls the other way and staying up the middle of the field. He's putting the bat on the ball and giving himself a chance instead of over-swinging.
"He gives me a professional at-bat. He's been around. He's got some experience."
That is why Acta enjoys seeing Hannahan in the batter's box these days.