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: Austin Kearns‘ go-ahead home run against the Yankees on July 4.
The Indians were clinging to a very precarious half-game lead in the AL Central the night of Independence Day. Soon they would lose their lead and fall into second place for good, but when they took the field in Cleveland against New York that evening, they had no intention of falling out of first just yet.
Josh Tomlin did everything he could to keep the Indians in first place. He took a no-hit shutout into the seventh inning against one of the best offenses in baseball, and after Derek Jeter reached on an error and Curtis Granderson walked to start the game, Tomlin retired the next 18 Yankees hitters he faced.
Unfortunately, the Indians weren’t giving him much to work with. Yankees starter A.J. Burnett was having a pretty good night himself. Asdrubal Cabrera‘s first-inning single was the only hit Cleveland got the first two times through the order, and Cabrera promptly got caught stealing after he got aboard. So when New York finally cracked Tomlin in the seventh inning, Nick Swisher‘s two-run double put the Yankees ahead, 2-0.
Carlos Santana grounded out to start the bottom of the seventh. After a pair of walks by Grady Sizemore and Lonnie Chisenhall (sandwiching Orlando Cabrera‘s three-pitch strikeout), Shelley Duncan put the Indians on the board with an RBI single. With runners at the corners—the tying run was on third and the go-ahead run was on first—and two outs, Austin Kearns stepped to the plate.
Kearns was having a rough season and was in the midst of a particularly rough streak: he entered the game with a .552 OPS on the year, including a .175/.250/.200 triple-slash in his prior 15 games. In 117 plate appearances, he had yet to hit a home run and had driven in only two RBI.
Kearns took the first pitch for a ball. Then Burnett left a cutter right over the plate and Kearns promptly made up for lost time:
He cleared the wall in right field to drive in not just himself but also Chisenhall and Duncan, turning a one-run deficit into a two-run lead. The score didn’t stay 4-2 for long, as both Granderson and Santana went yard in the eighth inning. But the Indians held on to win, 6-3.
Kearns’ game-changing blast was good for a WPA of .515—i.e., it increased the Indians’ chances of winning by 52 percent. Only two other Tribe hitters had the honor of helping the team more with a single swing in 2011.
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