CLEVELAND (AP) — Jason Giambi pulled the red-and-blue block "C'' cap off the hook in his locker, slipped it on and worked the bill, bending it to his exacting standards.
Everything had to be just right. "Time to get that first one in," he said. After missing Cleveland's first 18 games recovering from broken rib, Giambi was activated from the disabled Monday and was to make his season debut in the opener of a four-game series against the Kansas City Royals.
Giambi was batting seventh. Indians manager Terry Francona was thrilled to have him anywhere in his lineup. "I'm really glad," Francona said. "He means a lot to what we do. If he wants to hit a homer or two today, that's welcome. But having him back is real good. He's one of the more special people that we've all been around, so to have him back fighting with us is a good thing."
The 43-year-old Giambi is in his second season with the Indians, who weren't sure what they were getting when they signed him to a minor league contract before the 2013 season. And although Giambi batted only .183 in 71 games, he provided invaluable leadership in Cleveland's clubhouse and produced a few spine-tingling moments, none bigger than a game-ending pinch-homer on Sept. 24 that beat the Chicago White Sox.
The win came during a 10-game winning streak that put the Indians in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. "That moment is what keeps me coming back," Giambi said. "You don't forget those. Those are special. What made it great was the time it happened and how hard we worked. And if that game gets away — ... It was special. It gave everybody a taste of that finish, to go to the playoffs and be a part of it."
With Giambi returning, Francona juggled his lineup, giving backup catcher and cleanup hitter Carlos Santana the night off. Lonnie Chisenhall started at third and batted fourth. Francona noticed Santana lunging at pitches Sunday and thought he could use a mental break.
"I thought it would be good for him because he's starting to chase some balls out of the zone," he said. "I thought he was getting a little anxious. He's always had that volatile swing, and he stays in the zone so well, but yesterday I thought he started chasing. So I thought I would give him a night to kind of take it easy."
Giambi's return gave Francona another offensive weapon, a needed one for a team that's struggled offensively. "It's a big, powerful lefty bat who can change the score with one swing," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "He just adds a confidence to the rest of the lineup."
Giambi has become something of a big-brother figure to many of the younger Indians. After he finished dressing for batting practice, Giambi walked past Kipnis' locker and reminded him that time was running short.
"You got three minutes, kid," Giambi yelled to Kipnis, who said his older teammate's contributions go way beyond hitting home runs. "People just feed off his positive energy and the experience he has," Kipnis said. "He just makes you feel more comfortable. You're more relaxed knowing he's on your side. You can go to him with anything."