The bane of my existence in 2011, Austin Kearns, delivered a blast that we may all never forget; a seventh inning, three- run jack to right field when it looked as if the Indians may be sunk against the big, bad, New York Yankees.
Even this morning, I still can’t believe it.
Josh Tomlin took the ball from Manny Acta to start the game. After the first two batters reached base via an error and a walk, the crafty right-hander took over the game. From that point until the seventh inning, no Yankee could touch the Texan.
Along the way, Tomlin went five innings or more for the 29th consecutive time to start his career – a new Major League record.
“He just continues to amaze everybody here, because he doesn’t back down from anybody,” Manny Acta said. “He attacks the zone with his four pitches, and makes big things happen for us on the mound.”
His off-speed stuff and corner painting completely baffled the Bronx Bombers, as it did last July when he pitched seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball against them in his Major League debut.
“He’s all about location, with a number of different pitches, and he’s really good at it,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said. “You don’t throw 29 straight starts and go five innings, at least, if you don’t know how to pitch.”
Tomlin retired 18 in a row, an impressive feat considering who he had done it against, yet he still looked like he would end up with a loss. Mark Teixiera ended his no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the seventh. Robinson Cano’s infield single put two-on with one out and Nick Swisher’s double to the gap in left-center scored the first two runs of the game. Tomlin left after seven full innings, trailing 2-0.
On the other side of the coin was New York starter A.J. Burnett, who like Tomlin, was cruising into the bottom of the seventh with a two-hit shutout. After getting Carlos Santana for the first out, Burnett walked Grady Sizemore bringing the tying run to the plate. He would advance to second on a wild pitch, but Orlando Cabrera would strike out. With two out, Lonnie Chisenhall sent a pop-up in foul territory behind third baseman Alex Rodriguez and in front of left-fielder Brett Gardner. Both had a chance to make the play to end the inning.
Neither of them did, and it cost the Yankees dearly.
As they did so often early in the season, the Indians came through when they needed to the most. Given the extra out, Chisenhall worked the count full and reached on a walk. Now the tying runs were aboard for Shelley Duncan. Burnett immediately got ahead in the count 0-2 before Duncan began fouling off pitches. On a 2-2 pitch, Burnett went away and Duncan went with it, depositing the ball into right field for an RBI single.
Then came Kearns. The tying run was at second. The lead run was at first. WFNY’s own Kirk tweeted “PINCH HIT….PLEASE.” I told my wife that we could take the dog out because there was no way Kearns was coming through. Shame on us!
Luckily, I stayed in front of my TV and was forced to pick up my jaw from the floor as Kearns became a hero. He took a Burnett fastball over the right-field fence for his first homer of the year, in his 105th at-bat. The three-run blast put the Indians ahead 4-2. 40,000 plus roared for more.
The smile of Kearns face in the dugout was priceless.
He had faced Burnett 11 times coming into that at-bat. It was his first hit off of him in nine years. The other was a grand slam during his rookie season of 2002.
“It’s a funny game,” Kearns said. “I haven’t really sniffed A.J. — ever. For whatever reason, I had some good at-bats tonight.”
Kearns, the man with 9,000 lives, bought himself more time with that unforgettable blast in the seventh.
With six outs left, Acta went to his bullpen, calling on Tony Sipp and Vinnie Pestano in the eighth. Curtis Granderson got Pestano with a two-out solo homer, but the Indians would get that run back plus one more to boot on Santana’s eighth inning two-run jack the opposite way.
Santana showed extremely impressive strength pulling a pitch out of the park and over the 19-foot wall in left.
Chris Perez came on to get the Yankees 1-2-3 in the ninth for his 20th save. With a newly shaven-down beard and the emotion of losing his Grandmother late last week weighing on him, Pure Rage needed just four pitches to get the final three outs for the quickest of his 20 saves.
Overall, you’d have to say this was one of the most gritty wins of the season for this young ballclub. Acta put it best after the game – “Pitching wins ballgames. Pitching and timely hitting.” That was the exact formula they used last night and were so successful with when they jumped out to a 30-15 record.
Tonight, we should all be in for a real treat. Game two of this three-game series features a matchup between former Indian CC Sabathia (11-4, 3.05 ERA) and Carlos Carrasco (8-4, 3.54 ERA), one of the hottest starters in the American League. It should be a dandy.
Meanwhile, the Indians are a game and a half up on the Tigers and three and a half games up on the surging White Sox for first place in the AL Central. They have somehow stayed afloat despite a six-week slump, losing Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and now Shin-Soo Choo to injuries, and seeing their opening day starter, Fausto Carmona, turn into mush.
photo via @bananawut