What a nice way to close out your final homestand. The Indians headed into Wednesday night’s doubleheader on a four game winning streak. The weather broke on what turned into a beautiful night, and our beloved Wahoos played about as well as they have all season, taking both legs of the double dip and sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the process.
With yours truly and my three-year old son in attendance for the first game (pounding popcorn and pizza like it was going out of style – my son, not me!), Mitch Talbot suddenly found himself for seemingly the first time in months. The man who went from “The Fury” to “The Itch” after the All-Star break, went seven scoreless innings leading the way for the Tribe’s 4-0 victory.
“He set the tone for us from the get-go,” Tribe manager Manny Acta said of Talbot. “He threw a very good amount of strikes, neutralized the lefties in their lineup with that cutter and had a very good changeup. He mixed his pitches very well and was in control the whole time.”
It was a return to form the right-hander, who finished his season with 10 wins. Talbot hadn’t gone seven innings or more since June 27th and won for just the second time since the break.
“To finish off like this, on a good note, is great,” he said. “That’s what you think about when you’re driving at home or sitting at home on the couch.”
Talbot was given all the offense he needed with two swings of the bat. In the third, Travis Hafner hit a two-run blast to right off of Tiger righty Max Scherzer. It was Hafner’s second of the series and 13th of the season. Give Travis the nod; I’ve been dogging him all year, but he is hitting .326 since the break. The power isn’t what it used to be and he could be driving in more runs, but you can’t argue with .326 in 144 at-bats.
Shin-Soo Choo followed Hafner’s lead in the fifth, taking a Scherzer pitch deep for a two-run homer of his own. That’s all Talbot and two Tribe relievers would need. Jensen Lewis, who is still trying to make himself stick with the Tribe, pitched well in his scoreless eight inning. Vinny Pestano, the AAA closer, came in to close things out since it was a non-save situation. Vincenzo worked around a one out single to preserve the 4-0 win.
Game one finished in a tidy two hours and 22 minutes, allowing the nightcap to start right on time at 7:05. This one had the look of a mismatch, with the Tigers sending Justin Verlander and his 18 wins to the mound against Indians rookie Josh Tomlin. The Tigers jumped out to a three run lead after their first two half innings, and it looked like the Indians five-game winning streak was all but over.
But that’s why they play nine innings people!
In the bottom of the second, the Tribe scratched one across as Jordan Brown, who doubled and moved to third on a groundout, scored on Verlander’s wild pitch. With two out in the fourth, Jayson Nix’s single brought in Shelley Duncan to inch the Wahoos closer at 3-2.
While the Tribe was battling back against Verlander, Tomlin just kept fighting through. He only went five innings, giving up three runs on nine hits, but the offense ended up putting him in position to notch his sixth win.
The bottom half of the fifth saw a glimpse of Acta Ball at its finest. Give him credit, he clearly was out to win this game by any means necessary. After Lou Marson’s one out walk, Michael Brantley laced one down the right field line. Marson, running hard all the way, was waved in by third base coach Steve Smith, just barely beat the relay throw home. The game was tied at three. Brantley was credited with a triple, which would be key.
Trevor Crowe, who will more than likely be the fourth outfielder next year, had the important job of pushing Brantley across. The count was 2-1, and Acta, thinking a Verlander fastball was coming, called for the squeeze. As it turned out, Tiger catcher Gerald Laird thought something was amiss, and called for a pitch out. Verlander’s pitch went high and wide, but Crowe made an incredible attempt at the ball and connected. Brantley would score the lead run with ease.
“It turned out to be a tough, tough pitch to bunt. Crowe deserves a lot of credit. Tremendous execution,” Acta said.
Crowe chimed in:
“With runners in scoring position and less than two outs, [Verlander] tends to work up with his fastball,” Crowe said. “I just kind of anticipated the pitch was going to be up. I didn’t know it was going to be that up, but I just tried to get on top of it.
“I kind of anticipated [the squeeze] might be an option. Every time I stepped out, I was ready for the sign. When I got it, it was awesome.”
Indeed it was. As was the Indians relief pitching over the last four innings. Justin Germano pitched a scoreless sixth with the help of Marson gunning down Austin Jackson in a steal attempt. Justin Masterson pitched a 1-2-3 seventh. Joe Smith got the first two in the eighth, before Acta turned to Raffy Perez to face pinch hitter Ramon Santiago. Santiago singled and out came Acta again. As I said before, the Tribe manager really wanted to win this one. So he went to his best.
Pure Rage came in for a four out save. He K’d Will Rhymes to end the eighth and got through the ninth unscathed to close out the Indians home season with a win, the team’s sixth straight. It was Perez’s 23rd of the year.
As I said before, what a great way to finish for your fans.
“It’s all about lasting impressions,” Acta said. “I told them that if you don’t play as hard as you’ve been playing, that’s what people are going to remember heading into the offseason. We wanted to finish this way. Our fans deserve this so they can end up with a good taste in their mouths.”
The Indians finished 38-43 at home and drew a 10-year low 1.39 million fans. After the game, Tribe players through autograph balls into the stands as a think you to the 12,000 plus who showed up last night. Members of the Indians front office handed out free ticket passes for 2011 as we walked into the stadium. Classy gestures all around.
After an off day, the Indians will close out their season with a three game set in Chicago against the White Sox.
(photo via Dan Mendlik/Cleveland Indians)