It was bound to happen at some point. The Tribe relievers, dubbed “The Bullpen Mafia,” have been as close to perfect as you can get this season. The blown games have come few and far between for this group. No matter the situation, they always seem to get the job done.
During last night’s 6-4 loss in Phoenix, the pen was done in late not once, but twice.
This was a close game throughout thanks to solid starting pitching on both sides from Josh Tomlin and Daniel Hudson. But it wasn’t their pitching that everyone wanted to talk about last night; it was their bats.
Tomlin delivered the first two hits of his career in the third and fifth. After Shelley Duncan’s leadoff double, the Tribe starter was asked to drop down a sacrifice bunt. Instead, he put down a beauty to the third base side for a bunt single. Duncan would end up scoring the first run of the game on Michael Brantley’s double play ball.
In the fifth, with two outs and Lonnie Chisenhall on second (after a double), Tomlin came through with a big RBI single to stretch the Tribe lead to 2-0.
“”They got me the ball for the first hit and the first RBI,’’ said Tomlin. “”I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball. I didn’t want to strike out. Just make contact and see what happened.’’
Meanwhile, he was cruising on the mound until the bottom of the fifth. With two outs, eighth place hitter Gerardo Pena tripled. Hudson, who handles the bat as well as any pitcher in the league, doubled in Parra for the D’Backs first run. It was Hudson’s seventh RBI on the season, otherwise known as five more than Austin Kearns has in 57 less ABs.
The home run ball got Tomlin again, this time in the sixth. Nursing a 2-1 lead, Kelly Johnson hit a solo shot, his 13th on the year, to tie the game. That is where things would stay until the bottom of the eighth.
With Tomlin being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh, Acta turned things over to his bullpen. Rafael Perez, Monday night’s winning pitcher, was first. Parra greeted him with a single and was bunted over into scoring position by Hudson. Johnson would follow by driving Parra in to give the D’Backs their first lead of the game at 3-2. After Stephen Drew’s groundout moved Johnson to third, Acta called for right-handed specialist Joe Smith. Facing the dangerous Justin Upton, Smith was squeezed on a potential third strike call before giving up an RBI single. Chris Young followed with a single of his own. It was the fourth Arizona hit of the inning – they entered the eighth with just five.
Tony Sipp came on to get the final out, but the damage was done.
D’Backs manager Kirk Gibson went to his closer J.J. Putz, a night after he gave up the game-winning home run to Orlando Cabrera. OC was the first man he would face. Clearly rattled by Orlando’s success against him, Putz delivered a four pitch walk. Asdrubal Cabrera worked a full count before flying out to left. He threw his bat to the ground in disgust. However, the Tribe’s fortune’s would change.
Carlos Santana, zero for his last 13 entering the ninth, sat on a Putz fastball and tattooed it into the right-field seats to tie things at four. It was an absolute bomb.
“”I was looking for a fastball in, and that’s what he threw,’’ Santana said.
Travis Buck would double with two out and move to third on a passed ball, but he would be stranded there as Chisenhall was screwed into the ground by side-arming lefty Alberto Castillo.
With new life, we went to the bottom of the ninth. The happy feeling would be short-lived. Sipp walked Ryan Roberts to open the frame and then watched him steal second and third. Willie Bloomquist’s fly ball to right was not deep enough to score Roberts and it looked as though the Tribe may get out of this one. With the pitchers spot up and the lefty Sipp on the mound, Gibson called for Wily Mo Pena off the bench. First base was open and the left-handed hitting Johnson was on deck. Interestingly, Acta let Sipp face the right-handed Pena.
Pena took Sipp’s 1-0 pitch over the fence in left for a walk-off winner.
“That was a the matchup we liked right there,” said Acta. “Tony is a guy who gets righties and lefties out. Right-handers are hitting .200 against him over the last two years. Unfortunately, it didn’t pay off.”
It was clearly eating at Acta that he was being questioned about not walking Pena to let Sipp go left on left against Johnson. He went so far as to taking his defense to twitter last night:
The lefty on deck is hitting .305 vs Lhp over the last 3 years. Bases empty or loaded, who has a better chance to get a hit? Willy or Kelly?
Its hard to fault Acta there as seemingly every move he made in April and most of May worked to perfection. Plus, Sipp has been so good this season. Regardless it was a bitter pill to swallow considering the Santana ninth inning home run to tie the game.
The loss didn’t hurt the Indians in the division race as the Tigers were pasted yesterday by the New York Mets. The rubber match against Arizona is an afternoon tilt, 3:40 EST. Acta will give the ball to his hottest starter, Carlos Carrasco (7-4, 3.62 ERA). He will face off against lefty Zach Duke (1-2, 5.73 ERA). With the southpaw on the hill, expect to see a lineup with righties Austin Kearns, Lou Marson, and Shelley Duncan in it.
(AP Photo/Matt York)