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: Asdrubal Cabrera‘s go-ahead home run against the Royals on August 27.
The outlook was bleak for the Indians by the time they took the field against the Royals that evening. The team that had had the best record in baseball earlier in the season had fallen to .500, 6.5 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central and a full 13.5 games behind in the race for the AL wild card.
But not all hope was lost. The night before, the Tribe had rallied back in the seventh inning to turn what looked like it would be a 1-0 loss into a 2-1 win. Even better, Jim Thome, one of the best-loved athletes in Cleveland sports history, had just been traded to the Indians as part of their last-ditch attempt to catch Detroit—no one expected him to single-handedly close the gap, but at the very least it was exciting to see him come back and showed that the front office hadn’t given up.
The Indians got on the board first via Jack Hannahan‘s second-inning RBI single. The Royals responded with three runs in the fourth inning, but Hannahan’s two-run triple tied it up again. And when Melky Cabrera‘s fifth-inning RBI double put the Royals on top again, 4-3, Thome tied it up with a bomb to left field in the sixth:
But the honeymoon didn’t last long. Alex Gordon took Tony Sipp deep in the top of the seventh for a three-run homer, giving Kansas City a 7-4 lead heading into stretch time. Asdrubal Cabrera’s RBI double in the bottom of the seventh made a dent in the deficit, but the Indians still trailed, 7-5, when it turned to the bottom of the eighth.
Jason Donald tried to get things started with a leadoff single, but Hannahan grounded into a double play. Pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall managed a single after a battle with Royals reliever Louis Coleman and Kosuke Fukudome followed up with a walk to make it two on with two outs. The go-ahead run at the plate was Cabrera.
Cabrera’s bat had cooled off significantly after his scorching started to the season. He’d hit just .256/.326/.395 in his previous 68 games—not bad for a shortstop, but it’s a far cry from the MVP-caliber performance he put up earlier in the year.
He took the first two pitches he saw from Coleman—the first was a strike, the second was a ball. With a 1-1 count, Coleman hung a slider right in Cabrera’s wheelhouse. Protip: don’t do that.
The ball cleared the right-field wall, and that was the end of the Royals’ lead. Chris Perez preserved the lead with a scoreless ninth and the Indians won, 8-7.
It wasn’t Cabrera’s only clutch hit of the night (his seventh-inning RBI double was a pretty big boost too) and in terms of pure excitement his home run may have played second banana to Thome’s. But the Indians wouldn’t have won without Cabrera, as evidenced by his .692 WPA—i.e., he boosted the Tribe’s chances of winning by almost 70 percent.
In terms of improving Cleveland’s chances of winning, this was the biggest non-walkoff play of the year for the Tribe. And for the Indians’ team MVP and Man of the Year, it was the most clutch hit of the season.
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