With 20,562 screaming fans in full throat just 500 feet or so from the Home Run Plaza in left field, the Indians were taking on the Kansas City Royals. To quote the great Harry Doyle from Major League “in case you didn’t notice, and judging by the attendance, you haven’t,” the Indians won a game behind strong starting pitching and their suddenly potent offense, knocking off Kansas City 8-7 in front of the smallest crowd in Jacobs/Progressive Field history. The attendance was listed at 11,408, but that is tickets SOLD. My guess, it was more like 3,000.
It looks as though all the Wahoo offensive attack needed was a trip to Coors Field East….errrrr….new Yankee Stadium to find their groove. They jumped all over Sidney Ponson for six runs through four innings, capped off by a Grady Sizemore three-run homer. It actually could have been a lot worse if not for a momentary relapse to the Tribe of April’s past.
In the first they had one run in and runners at second and third with one out and couldn’t get another run home. In the third, back to back to back singles by Mark DeRosa, Victor Martinez, and Travis Hafner started the inning, yet they managed to only score one measly run on a Jhonny Peralta fielder’s choice.
But I’m not here to dwell on the negatives. The offense delivered eight runs, nine hits, and drawing nine walks. Martinez continued his smokin’ hot start, going 4-5 with 3 RBI, including the back-breaking two run shot in the eighth off of Juan Cruz. Vic the Stick is now sporting a .397 batting average. Anyone think he isn’t back to full strength? The offensive stat of the day has to be the nine walks, but interestingly eight of the nine starters had at least one. The one Indian who didn’t draw a base on balls was Martinez, who had four hits.
Then there was Aaron Laffey. The left-hander who didn’t make the club out of Spring Training has vaulted himself into the top of the rotation after his two starts – both wins – in the last 10 days against Kansas City. Building on his solid 5.1, two earned run outing last week, the double-play machine was back on his game last night.
Laffey became the first Indian starter to throw at least seven innings. He danced in and out of trouble, giving up seven hits and walking three, but the pitcher’s best friend – the double play ball – saved him all night long. Laffey’s sinker worked to perfection seemingly every time the Royals had a runner on base. He induced five DP’s and escaped allowing just one run. “He pitched an outstanding game,” said manager Eric Wedge. “He put the ball on the ground all night. For him to get us through the seventh — especially what happened after that — was a separator.”
A 6-1 lead heading into the eighth should be no problem to hold right? Not if you’re the struggling Tribe pen.
Wedge handed the ball to his new eighth inning guy, Joe Smith. With Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis, and Rafael Betancourt all struggling and little other place to go, The King of Grind has decided to re-shuffle his deck in front of closer Kerry Wood.
It didn’t work.
Smith was handed a five run lead and forgot to record an out. Pinch hitter Bryan Pena greeted him with a double. David DeJesus singled him home. After Smith walked Billy Butler, Wedge yanked Smith for Masa Kobayashi. Masa treated this appearance like he was back in Goodyear getting in “work.” The first man he faced, Mark Teahen, singled home DeJesus. Mike Jacobs followed with an RBI single of his own, after nearly missing a tape measure, game-tying homer.
Nice work. So five batters into the eighth inning, the five run lead turned into two, and the tying run was on base with nobody out. A befuddled Wedge had no choice but to turn to Lewis. Alberto Callaspo hit a sac fly to bring the Royals to 6-5, but Lewis still had work to do. Jenny Lew was bailed out by the KC nemesis of the night – the double play. Miguel Olivo sent a 2-1 pitch back to the box, Lewis fired to second to start the inning ending 1-6-3 DP. Inning over.
Thank goodness for the Victor two run shot in the bottom of the eighth, because the only under-worked member of the Wahoo bullpen, Kerry Wood, was touched up for a two-run shot by DeJesus. He froze Butler to end the game and notch his second save of the season.
While I will never complain when the Indians win a game, especially against a divisional opponent, the fact that they could barely hold a five run lead with six outs to go is disturbing. Terry Pluto wrote in yesterday’s PD “I never thought I’d write this, but the Indians bullpen worries me more than the starters.” I’m not going to go that far until Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano can show me more than one good start and Fausto Carmona stops walking more guys than he strikes out in each start. But the bullpen has to get fixed or the Tribe has zero shot to contend, even in the weak AL Central.
Should be interesting to see how Wedge works his bullpen if he is out in a similar situation tonight. I’m also curious to see how many fans are in the stands tonight without the Cavs playing at the same time. Lee goes tonight for the Red, White, and Blue. He is opposed by the Brian Bannister, who is making his first start of the season for the Royals.