The Indians win their fourth game in a row by beating the Baltimore Orioles 8-7 in thirteen innings.
The offense kept chugging right along in this one, tallying eight runs on fourteen hits. Ryan Raburn justified Terry Francona’s decision to bat him cleanup by leading off the second inning with a home run to left field to give the Tribe the early lead. In the third, Michael Brantley tripled home Michael Bourn, who had reached on an infield single. Brantley then came in to score on a Wei-Yin Chen wild pitch, putting the Tribe up 3-0 in the third.
If you’re a big fan of response runs (and really, who isn’t), today’s game was a sight to behold. After the Orioles put up five runs in the sixth, the Indians got to work in the seventh. After a Yan Gomes one-out single, Carlos Santana hit a slow bouncer up the middle that should have been an easy play for shortstop J.J. Hardy. Fortunately for Cleveland, the ball bounced off of second baseman Ryan Flaherty’s glove and into center field for a single, advancing Gomes to third. A David Murphy groundout scored Gomes, and a Mike Aviles single to left scored Santana, tying the score at 5-5. The inning almost turned into a huge one for the Tribe when Michael Bourn singled to put two men on with two out. Asdubral Cabrera followed with what looked to be a home run to left field, only to have it robbed by David Lough.
The Indians weren’t finished with the response runs there. The Indians continued to reap the benefits of their lineup genius in the eighth, when Buck Showalter brought in Darren O’Day to face-to-face Raburn. Francona countered with everyone’s favorite post-hype sleeper: Lonnie Chisenhall. Chisenhall yanked an O’Day slider for his second homer in as many days (plus later on he got to face a LEFTY! He didn’t get a hit, but still!). Chisenhall managed a 2 for 3 day despite not being in the starting lineup, and he’s making people who wrote him off (me included) despite being only 25 years old feel foolish in the process.
If all that wasn’t enough, the Tribe managed to retake the lead in the thirteenth inning in wild fashion. After former Indian Preston Guilmet got Justin Sellers to pop out, left-hander Troy Patton came on to face Brantley and Chisenhall. Brantley singled to center, and Chisenhall had one of the strangest bunt attempts you’ll ever see. In his attempt to drag the ball, Chisenhall popped the ball in the air towards first base over the head of the charging Chris Davis. The Orioles weren’t able to convert the out at first, giving Chisenhall a popup bunt single. Nick Swisher then walked to load the bases with one out for Yan Gomes. Gomes hit a shallow fly into right field foul territory, and Michael Brantley made it about halfway down the line before returning to third.
So with the bases loaded and two out, the embattled Carlos Santana stepped to the plate. Santana put a lot of Tribe fans back in his corner when he snuck a ground ball just over the bag at third for a two run double and an 8-6 lead.
After Wednesday’s extra inning affair, the hope for Thursday’s game was that Terry Francona could use his bullpen judiciously. Suffice to say, that didn’t happen. Francona had to go to his bullpen early again, and yet again they rose to the occasion. Newcomer Mark Lowe, Marc Rzepczynski, Cody Allen, John Axford, and Josh Outman combined for 6.1 innings and zero earned runs (Lowe allowed an unearned run, see below). Atchison looked shaky getting the save in the eighth, allowing a home run to Nick Markakis and three long fly balls, but all in all the bullpen was excellent again. Please T.J. House, give us seven innings tomorrow, would ya?
Look, this season is far from over for the Indians, but if they’re going to make a playoff push, they HAVE. TO CATCH. THE BASEBALL.
With one out in the sixth, Adam Jones hit a ball to deep right-center field that could have been caught by either Michael Bourn or David Murphy. Except neither of them did. The ball fell in between the two outfielders for a double, sparking a five run rally for Baltimore.
With one out in the seventh, Asdrubal Cabrera booted a ground ball off the bat of Manny Machado for an error. Carlos Santana followed that up by throwing a potential double-play ball from Adam Jones into right field, allowing the runners to advance to second and third. A Nelson Cruz sac fly two batters later allowed Baltimore to take a 6-5 lead without recording a hit.
The frustrating thing here is that there’s not really anything the team could do to fix the defense other than promote Francisco Lindor, which the team would be loathe to do with Cabrera swinging such a hot stick lately. I would never question the heart or character of this ballclub, and there’s no doubt that the sloppy play in the field bothers the players more than anyone. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to see the team cost themselves so many runs by failing to make the routine plays.
Like so many times this season, Justin Masterson started off the game well before losing his ability to command the baseball. Masterson got seven ground ball outs through the first four innings, including double plays in the first and second inning, and more importantly he issued zero walks. Through four innings, Masterson looked like the pitcher he was in 2013.
Masterson started the fifth inning by walking the leadoff hitter then hitting the next two batters. But in typical sinkerballer fashion, Masterson got David Lough to ground into a 1-2-3 double play before Nick Markakis lined out to first to end the inning.
Masterson wasn’t so fortunate in the sixth. After the Bourn/Murphy I-Got-It-You-Got-It Debacle, Masterson struck out Chris Davis on three pitches for what should have been the third out, but a Nelson Cruz walk and singles by Steve Clevenger and J.J. Hardy plated two runs and left runners on first and second with two outs for notorious Indians-Killer Ryan Flaherty (which is just a horrible sentence to see in print). Flaherty drove a Masterson sinker that caught the middle of the plate over the right field fence to make the score 5-3 in favor of Baltimore. Masterson walked David Lough before exiting, putting his final line at 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO, I HR.
The old axiom is that sinkerballers are less encumbered by the burden of pitching on short rest because…there arms are more tired and that causes their ball to sink more? I don’t know, that narrative never made sense to me. But it’s tough to put too much emphasis on the short rest part of the equation when evaluating Masterson’s outing, only because this outing was like so many of his other outings this season. A good way to judge how Masterson is throwing is by looking at the number of ground balls he’s generating, and he had less ground balls (one) than walks/HBP (5) in the fifth and sixth innings. It makes sense to give Masterson a free pass (thank you, I’ll be here all week) for today’s outing due to short rest, but you don’t have to be Jason Stanford to see that Masterson is struggling to repeat his delivery and release point from inning to inning, let alone start to start.
The Bottom Line
After a slow start, the Indians are finally starting to put things together, winning four in a row against quality opponents. The fielding is still shaky, but overall the team is playing much better than they were even a week ago. The Tribe may be a decent ways back of front running Detroit, but there’s still plenty of season left to play.