A bullpen meltdown wasn’t enough to stop the Tribe Monday night as the Indians (19-16) beat the Twins (10-25), 5-4, to kick off a two-game series in Minnesota.
Former Indian Carl Pavano and Tribe starter Jeanmar Gomez both got off to great starts in the mound as neither team scored until the bottom of the third. Darin Mastroianni led off the inning with a single and moved to second on Drew Butera‘s groundout. With Denard Span at the plate, he charged for third on a Gomez passed ball. Carlos Santana‘s throw to third sailed over Jose Lopez‘ head and Mastroianni came home to give the Twins a 1-0 lead.
It didn’t last long. Jason Kipnis started the fourth with a single before Asdrubal Cabrera hit a ground rule double. Travis Hafner‘s groundout plated Kipnis and moved Cabrera to third and Santana’s sacrifice fly brought Cabrera home. Casey Kotchman connected for a two-run home run off Pavano an inning later to make it 4-1 Cleveland.
All looked good until the bottom of the eighth. Manny Acta pulled Gomez for Vinnie Pestano, who walked Denard Span before retiring Brian Dozier and striking out Joe Mauer. Josh Willingham then knocked him for an RBI double before Acta gave him the hook. Nick Hagadone promptly served up a two-run homer to Ryan Doumit; after another pitching change Joe Smith was able to get out of the inning, but the Twins had come back to tie it, 4-4.
But Cleveland was able to get some timely hitting in the ninth. Casey Kotchman reached with a one-out single and moved to second on a wild pitch from Matt Capps. Shin-Soo Choo then hit a line drive to right field to score Lou Marson, who had been pinch-running for Kotchman (you read that correctly). Chris Perez shut the door with a 1-2-3 ninth as the Indians came out with a 5-4 win.
The Good: Jeanmar Gomez. He threw seven terrific innings, holding the Twins to three hits without allowing a single earned run. That he got only two strikeouts against three walks isn’t a great sign for his long-term success, but he definitely had Minnesota’s lineup stymied tonight.
Casey Kotchman also had a great game, going 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBI, and while he did not actually cross the plate it was his ninth-inning hit that led to the winning run. Without his bat in the lineup the Indians would have lost.
The Bad: The bullpen. Vinnie Pestano and Nick Hagadone have been the Tribe’s twin relief aces this year, but you wouldn’t know it from this game. They combined to allow three runs (all earned) on two hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning as Hagadone was stuck with a (ridiculous) blown save. Part of the problem was probably rust—Manny Acta’s been quite conservative in terms of deploying his best bullpen arms recently—but it was disconcerting to see them struggle.
The “Huh?”: There’s a lot to go around here after Monday night. The top of the order was a marked improvement. Manny Acta seems to have taken our advice by benching Johnny Damon and moving Shin-Soo Choo to the leadoff spot; at least the latter move seems to be permanent. But while Shelley Duncan finally got to play Monday, he was banished to the No. 9 spot in the lineup, behind Jose Lopez and Casey Kotchman. What’s it going to take before this team gives Duncan some respect?
Acta then made a number of questionable moves in the ninth inning. With Jeanmar Gomez absolutely cruising and still under 100 pitches through seven innings Acta brought in Vinnie Pestano in the eighth to protect the Tribe’s 4-1 lead. Pestano got into a bit of a jam (he’d gotten two outs but allowed an RBI double to Josh Willingham) and Acta was quick on the trigger to pull him for Nick Hagadone. Two batters later the game was tied and the go-ahead run was aboard so Acta went to Joe Smith to shut the door—because using up your best relievers is always a good idea in a game that might go to extra innings.
Finally, there was the surprising move to pinch-run for Casey Kotchman with Lou Marson in the top of the ninth. It ended up working out as Marson scored on Choo’s RBI single, but it’s hard to picture Marson as a pinch runner.
Interesting Tidbit: It’s already mid-May and this is the first time the Indians and Twins have met this year—unusual considering they usually play at least 18 times a season. That makes 2012 the first time since the Tribe didn’t play Minnesota in April since 2003, when their first meeting was somehow delayed until July.