On Tuesday night the Indians and Angles engaged in a 14-inning marathon that saw them combine to use 16 different pitchers and throw 458 pitches. This wasn’t so much about winning and losing as it was about simply surviving. In the end, the Indians were able to pull out a 4-1 victory that, when you get down to it, defied both logic and reason.
Think about it. The Indians surrendered one run. It came on a solo home run… before a single out was recorded… on the second pitch of the game. A grand total of 216 pitches followed and not a single one of them resulted in another run being scored by the Angels. They had 27 more outs to work with, 42 when you take into account the five extra frames they played, and couldn’t craft a single run out of any of them.
That’s not to say the Angels didn’t have their chances. After all, they managed to out-hit the Indians 12 to 8 in addition to drawing 6 walks. When you add it all up, the Angels left a grand total of 17 runners stranded on base over the course of 14 innings of play. For those of you not wanting to do the math, that’s more than a runner per inning.
As you can probably imagine, or witnessed if you stayed up until about 3:30 in the morning, there were moments in Tuesday night’s game when things looked all but lost. Yet, the Indians found a way.
Take for instance the bottom of the seventh. The Angels advanced a runner to second with one out but were unable to bring him around to score thanks to Cody Allen and Marc Rzepczynski, Then there was the bottom of the eighth. An error by Jason Kipnis paved the way for the Angels to once again have runners at first and second with one out. In a moment of clouded judgement, Josh Hamilton got himself picked off on a beautifully ran timing play between Asdrubal Cabrera and Joe Smith. Kole Calhoun promptly singled to right further infuriating Mike Scioscia because Hamilton would have scored easily on the play.
Perhaps even more surprising was they way in which the Indians wiggled their way out of the bottom of the tenth inning. Matt Albers managed to load the bases with nobody out thanks to a freak bunt single that hugged the third base line instead of going foul. But again, the Indians found a way to survive. Albers struck out Chris Nelson for the first out. Rich Hill then entered the game and got Hank Conger to line out to third on what very nearly became a double play. Finally, Bryan Shaw was able to strike out Grant Green.
In a final heart stopping moment, Michael Bourn saved the day in the bottom of the twelfth with some truly outstanding defense in center. With runners on first and second with no one out, Hank Conger drove a Chris Perez offering to the deepest part of the ballpark. Bourn raced back, leaped, and crashed into the wall. All the while the ball was coming to rest in his outstretched glove for the third out of the inning.
All of this was pulse pounding, but infuriating at the same time. With each and every passing inning, as one Indians pitcher entered the game and another exited, it looked as if the Indians were going to find a way to lose. That story just wasn’t meant to be, no matter how convenient or simple it would have been to digest. Only the Indians wanted no part in writing that narrative. Instead, they simply found a way.
Isn’t that so much of what baseball really is – finding a way? Finding a way to win. Finding a way to survive an injury. Finding a way to get through a bad stretch of baseball. Finding a way is as much a part of the game as the suicide squeeze and the three-run home run. Finding a way is what brings teams together and builds a stronger bond. The teams that can’t typically struggle.
That’s why when we finally conduct the autopsy of this season, Tuesday night’s game may stand out as the defining moment when the Indians found a way to do everything right. If they can find a way into the playoffs, it may be this game that we point to as the catalyst. Fourteen improbable innings that some how served as another turning point in a season that has been full of turning points. Let’s just hope that this time it’s an up turn rather than a down turn.