The new year is almost upon us, and with it will come a fresh start and fresh hope for the Cleveland Indians. But before we turn our calendars to 2012, we at Wahoo’s on First wanted to look back at the highlights of the 2011 season.
This week, we’ll be counting down the top Tribe plays of the 2011 season, as determined by Win Probability Added (check out the FanGraphs Saber Library entry for a full explanation). Next in the countdown: Travis Buck‘s game-tying double against the Blue Jays on July 9.
It was clear before the Indians took the field at Progressive Field that night that it was going to be an important game. The Detroit Tigers had won three straight games at sat just a half-game behind the Tribe in the AL Central.
Toronto opened the scoring quickly with Adam Lind‘s first-inning RBI single off of Josh Tomlin, but the Blue Jays’ led didn’t last long: Matt LaPorta‘s second-inning sacrifice fly tied the game, 1-1. Toronto would add a run in each of the third, fourth, and fifth innings; the Indians earned back two of them on Grady Sizemore‘s fourth-inning two-run homer, but the score stood at 4-3.
Both teams’ lineups went quiet after that, and in the bottom of the ninth the Tribe was still down by one. Travis Hafner led off with a single and was replaced on the basepaths by Austin Kearns. A pair of groundouts later, Kearns—the tying run—was on third base with two outs for Buck.
Buck was on a tear entering the game, having gone 9-for-23 with 6 RBI in his previous eight contests. But overall he still wasn’t having a great season, having hit just .256/.297/.380 in 39 games as a backup outfielder.
Buck’s subsequent at-bat might have been the most nerve-racking of the year. It wasn’t just that it was a huge situation: it seemed like it was going to go on forever. He took both of Jon Rauch‘s first two pitches for strikes, then—with the Indians down to their last strike—he took again for ball one. He fouled off two pitches before taking ball two, then got pieces of four more of Rauch’s offerings.
Finally, on the 11th pitch of the at-bat, this happened:
Buck lined the pitch off the wall in left-center and slid into second as Kearns scored easily to the game, 4-4. Matt LaPorta ended the inning by grounding out on the first pitch, sending the game into extra innings…in which Jose Bautista promptly sent the second pitch he saw from Chris Perez over the wall.
Still, Buck deserves huge kudos for keeping the Indians alive when they were an out away from losing, and then setting himself up as the potential winning run. His hit was worth .446 WPA, edging out the two-bagger Hafner hit two weeks later for the distinction of being the most valuable double of the year for Cleveland. But it wasn’t Buck’s biggest hit of the season—that would come in at No. 6.
The Full Countdown
No. 1: Travis Hafner’s Walk-Off Home Run, May 13
No. 2: Travis Hafner’s Walk-Off Grand Slam, July 7
No. 3: Asdrubal Cabrera’s Game-Winning Homer, August 27
No. 4: Austin Kearns’ Go-Ahead Home Run, July 4
No. 5: Jack Hannahan’s Game-Tying Home Run, June 8
No. 6: Travis Buck’s Go-Ahead Home Run, May 21
No. 7: Travis Buck’s Game-Tying Double, July 9
No. 8: Travis Hafner’s Game-Tying Double, July 25
No. 9: Orlando Cabrera’s Game-Winning Homer, June 27
No. 10: Matt LaPorta’s Walk-Off Home Run, July 30