Justin Masterson was at his best, while the Tribe lineup was at its worst. Nevertheless, the Wahoos were nursing a 1-0 lead heading into the ninth inning. Chris Perez entered with 16 consecutive saves in tow. A normal Pure Rage outing and the boys would be going for a four-game sweep this afternoon in Minneapolis.
Instead, we were all left scratching our heads as to what had just happened.
After retiring Alexi Casilla to start the ninth, Perez walked the dangerous Joe Mauer to put the tying run on base. He fell behind Michael Cuddyer, the hottest Twins hitter, then watched as he blooped a single to shallow left field.
I have never been a fan of the “no doubles” defensive strategy. I get why a manager would want to have everything stay in front of the outfielders with the tying run on base in the ninth, but when you have a truck like Mauer on first base, it is completely unnecessary. Cuddyer’s blooper turned into a double because the last man standing in the outfield – utility man Luis Valbuena – was literally playing one step in front of the warning track.
Sweet Luis had to make a marathon run to get to the ball, but this time, Mauer was easily on third and Cuddyer turned a bloop single into a stand-up double. Isn’t this called “no doubles defense?”
“Valbuena, obviously, is not an outfielder,” Cuddyer said. “Nothing against him, but he’s a second baseman. I knew he was playing ‘no doubles’ in that situation with me at the plate.”
With the tying and winning runs in scoring position and first base open, Perez intentionally walked Jim Thome to load the bases for Danny Valencia. This was a dream matchup for the two former Miami Hurricanes. Roommates in Coral Gables, one of them had the chance to be the hero against their good friend. Valencia entered the at-bat 0-3 with two strikeouts and a double play.
This time, the Twins third baseman deposited a broken-bat single to short left in front of Valbuena for a walk-off single. Perez made good pitches, but both Cuddyer and Valencia were able to fight them off for hits.
The one thing you have to respect about Pure Rage is that while he was clearly distraught after the loss – he tossed his glove and the bubble gum container against the dugout wall – he calmly faced reporters after the game.
“I didn’t make pitches when I needed to. I feel bad for Masterson. He pitched a helluva game for us. He put us in position to stomp on their throats and I gave it up,” he said.
Perez is right. You have to feel bad for Masterson. For seemingly the 1000th time this season, the Tribe didn’t score for him. In a year of mix and match lineups, last night’s may have been the worst.
Michael Brantley was a late scratch with what was termed a stomach ailment. “He was very sick. Couldn’t hold any food since Monday night,” said Manny Acta. “The doctors gave him treatment right up until the ballgame, but he was in no condition to play.”
Travis Hafner was given a night off. Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore are both on the DL. To make matters worse, Travis Buck, the last minute replacement for Brantley, was drilled in the head by a Francisco Liriano pitch in the fifth inning and had to leave the game.
Your outfield was Austin Kearns, Ezequiel Carrera, and Sweet Luis. A far cry from Choo, Sizemore, and Brantley. The 5-9 was Matt LaPorta (.245), Kearns (.222), Jack Hannahan (.217), Lou Marson (.250), and Valbuena (.167).
The Tribe managed to scratch their lone run across in the fifth, but it could have been much much more. It turned out to be a real game changer. Marson led off with a single. Buck was hit in the head, replaced by Valbuena. Carrera, after failing to lay down a bunt, singled to load the bases with nobody out.
The problem was the rally never occurred. After Orlando Cabrera popped out to short, Asdrubal Cabrera’s sac fly brought home Marson to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead. Carlos Santana popped out to second to end the inning. You just knew not capitalizing there would come back to haunt them.
But maybe it wouldn’t have, considering how good Masterson was. We’ve seen him good this season, but this outing was his best in 2011. Of his 23 outs, a whopping 15 of them were on ground balls. He struck out six and didn’t walk anyone. The only time he got into any trouble was in the seventh.
Asdrubal’s throwing error allowed Mauer to reach base. Cuddyer singled to put two on with nobody out. But as he has been know to do, J Mast K’d Thome and then got Valencia to ground into an inning ending double play.
“What a pitching performance by Masterson,” Acta said. “That was tremendous. They couldn’t help but beat the ball in the ground the whole day. He was just fantastic.”
With two out and one on in the eighth and Masterson at 104 pitches on another hot night in Minneapolis, Acta turned to his bullpen. Tony Sipp got Ben Revere to end the inning, turning things over to his All-Star closer in the ninth. I didn’t love the move considering how “on” The big right-hander was.
“I would have loved to keep going,” Masterson said. “But as Manny said, we’ve got left-on-left coming up (Sipp vs. Revere). You’ve thrown 104 pitches and that’s like 130 in this heat. I wasn’t disrespecting our bullpen. I know they can do it, but, yeah, I was ready.”
The loss coupled with the Tigers win against Oakland moves the Tribe back into a first place tie. It also puts pressure on the Tribe to win this afternoon and take the series. The doubleheader wins from Tuesday become moot without winning today. Its up to Josh Tomlin (11-4, 4.03 ERA) to take care of business. The Twins counter with righty Nick Blackburn (7-6, 3.99 ERA).
Unfortunately, today’s 1:10 game will not be televised locally by STO, so I’ll be tuned into the pro of pros, Tom Hamilton on the Indians Radio Network.
(AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)