In the first inning, Mitch Talbot could have headed down that dangerous path once again. You know, the one he went all the way down last outing against the Red Sox in his last outing? With two runners on and one out, though, Talbot coaxed a double play ball from the bat of Juan Rivera to end the inning. From that moment on, Mitch Talbot was in control, although he didn’t do it alone. The Tribe’s winning formula, two-out hits and stellar infield defense, returned and aided Mitch and the Tribe in their 6-3 victory.
I was already readying the hook, looking to Zach McAllister for help in Columbus after Mitch’s Boston batting practice session. But, Talbot looked nearly as impressive on this night as he did earlier this season in his eight inning gem against the Angels. He had control of all four pitches, and stayed away from the big inning with the help of his infield. Talbot lasted 6 2/3 innings, letting up a lone run in the seventh that Joe Smith allowed to score. Talbot walked three, struck out three, and allowed just six hits. His most impressive feat may have been fanning Jose Bautista in the fifth on a devastating changeup. Retiring Jose Bautista, let alone striking him out, is quite an impressive accomplishment these days.
As for the defense, it was spectacular. In the third inning, Jack Hannahan flashed his glove twice. First, he took away an extra base hit from Jayson Nix, in the process showing him how a real third baseman picks it at the hot corner, snagging Nix’s lined shot. For the final out in the inning, Jack snagged a sharp grounder off the bat of Bautista and was able to get the force at second throwing from one knee.
The very next inning, Mitch was presented with two more gifts from his defense. The first came from Matt LaPorta, who as hard as I’ve been on him at times, is playing a much-improved first base defensively. LaPorta saved at least one run, taking a smash from Eric Thames to the bag himself for the key second out of the inning as runners advanced to second and third. The next hitter, Rajai Davis, was out by a step on a tough play at short from Asdrubal Cabrera. Mitch probably picked up the dinner bill for his infielders last night to show his gratitude, because if a couple of those plays don’t go the Tribe’s way, it’s an entirely different ballgame.
As for the offensive side of things, the Tribe bats woke up in a big way and in classic two-out fashion. For only the third time in the last nine games, the Tribe pushed more than three runs across the plate. It was thanks to six doubles, one short of their season high, and three fifth-inning runs that came with two (basically, three) outs. The Indians had some trouble picking up the ball coming out of Jays’ starter Brandon Morrow’s hand, as he struck out nine in his first four innings of work. However, those that they did connect on went a long way and for extra bases. One guy who certainly wasn’t fooled was Carlos Santana. The Tribe catcher was 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and 2 RBI, notching his first multi-hit game since May 17th. None of those were cheap hits either, and hopefully it gets Santana on the right track.
Then, there’s Michael Brantley, whose game I fall in love with a little more every game. In the DH role last night, Michael came up a homer short of the cycle, notching three hits and raising his average to .287. I feel that people are starting to come around on this thought a little bit now, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Brantley should be the Indians’ leadoff hitter for the rest of the season. His speed, pitch-taking ability, and the mindset to never be out of an at-bat are all things I highly value at the top of the lineup. With Hafner out, it’s convenient for Manny Acta to use that as a reason for Grady hitting in the middle of the order, but even when Pronk returns, I’d like to see Brantley stay at the top.
Grady had his own solid evening, collecting two hits and two RBI, the second of which came in the wacky fifth inning. With two down, Travis Buck worked a walk. Then, Santana doubled to right field. Third base coach Steve Smith sent Buck around, and the Tribe left fielder was easily out by ten feet. Fortunately, Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia dropped the ball, which tacked one run on and extended the inning. Sizemore then doubled and Orlando Cabrera singled, increasing Cleveland’s lead to 6-0.
One bone I have to pick is with Orlando Cabrera. After an absolutely unforgivable error last night, one that I felt he should have been benched for today, Orlando added another error to his collection, his fifth of the year. Sure, that’s not that many errors, but his miscues have seemed to come at costly times and his range at second is just average. Cabrera is a guy who I was defending to stay as a full-time starter as little as two weeks ago, but his leadership and veteran presence can only take him so far. I still want him on this team, but in a reduced role. It’s time for Cord Phelps, he of the .315 batting average and 38 RBI at Columbus, to get his chance. Orlando did drive in his 27th run of the year last night in the fifth.
Back to the positives, the bullpen was hit and miss Tuesday night, but one guy was unhittable. Vinnie “No Fear” Pestano blew away Aaron Hill, Thames, and Davis on 16 pitches, striking out the side on nothing but fastballs. Pestano’s confidence in his fastball is astonishing and it has allowed him to lock down the eighth inning role for the Indians. Joe Smith and Tony Sipp each yielded one run, and Chris Perez recorded the last out of the game in a non-save situation after allowing a single to Jose Bautista.
Tonight should be a great pitching matchup as Josh Tomlin faces Toronto’s Kyle Drabek.
(Photo: Darren Calabrese/AP)