Ubaldo Jimenez enjoyed his best outing of the season and Jason Kipnis‘ ninth-inning home run gave Tribe a last at-bat win as Cleveland beat the Cardinals 4-1 Sunday afternoon in the rubber match of a three-game weekend series at Busch Stadium. The win bumps the Indians’ record up to 32-27 and brings them to within half a game of the division-leading Chicago White Sox.
The Indians didn’t get off to a promising start. After Rafael Furcal grounded out to lead off the bottom of the first, Jimenez left a fastball right over the middle of the plate to Carlos Beltran, who promptly deposited it over the right field fence to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead. It was the only run Jimenez would allow Sunday.
The Tribe offered a delayed response in the top of the third. Shin-Soo Choo led off the inning with a ground rule double off Joseph Kelly, who was on the mound in the first big-league start of his career. Asdrubal Cabrera moved Choo to third on a groundout ahead of Kipnis’ one-out walk to set the stage for Carlos Santana‘s sacrifice fly. Choo’s run tied the game at 1-1, but that was all the Indians would get off Kelly.
The score was deadlocked from the third inning on as Kelly, Victor Marte, Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs shut down Cleveland’s offense while Jimenez and Vinnie Pestano kept St. Louis’ bats at bay. Finally, in the top of the ninth inning, Johnny Damon reached with a leadoff single and Cabrera drew a walk to bring Kipnis to the plate with two one and one out. After battling Cardinals closer Jason Motte for five pitches, Motte left a fastball over the inside part of the plate and The JK Kid drove it into the stands for a three-run homer. Chris Perez worked a scoreless ninth and got his league-leading 20th save as the Indians got a 4-1 win and took two of three for the series.
The Good: This was the best we’ve seen from Ubaldo Jimenez all season. Pitching against arguably the best offense in baseball, Jimenez held St. Louis to just one run on five hits in seven very strong innings. Even more encouraging, he struck out seven Cardinals batters without walking or hitting any. I’d go as far as to say it was his best outing since August 2011 and easily one of the three best starts he’s had since he came to Cleveland last year.
Jason Kipnis obviously had a great day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a homer, a double, a walk, a stolen base, a run scored, and three RBI; Shin-Soo Choo (2-for-5 with a double and a run scored) and Shelley Duncan (2-for-4) also enjoyed multi-hit games. Overall the Indians reached base 14 times with 10 hits and four walks as Cardinals pitchers got only one 1-2-3 inning—not bad for a team that had scored only one run through eight frames.
The Bad: The flipside of all those baserunners is that so few of them came around to score. Long-term this isn’t anything to worry about, but Kipnis wouldn’t have needed to come through in the clutch if more than one of the 11 baserunners the Indians had before the ninth inning had been able to cross the plate.
It was also a shaky outing for Vinnie Pestano. After getting Adron Chambers to ground out to start the bottom of the eighth, he issued three straight walks to Tyler Greene, Rafael Furcal, and Carlos Beltran to put the go-ahead run 90 feet away with the heart of St. Louis’ order due up. He ended up getting out of the jam in typical Pestano fashion, getting both No. 3 hitter Yadier Molina and cleanup man Allen Craig to strike out swinging, but it wasn’t his usual clean eighth inning.
The “Huh?”: I get that the All-Star vote is a popularity contest, and I don’t expect the best players to win. Nor am I the first person to note how ridiculous it is that Jason Kipnis has fewer votes than Robert Andino and Chris Getz. But come on, man! Sunday was one of the best games of the year for one of the best young players in the game. Is it really possible that he won’t get named to the Midsummer Classic?
Interesting Tidbit: The last time Ubaldo Jimenez had a start in which he struck out at least a batter per inning without walking anyone was over a year ago—June 7, 2011.