When Eric Wedge was the manager of the Indians, I have to admit, I was a fan. I know I was in the minority, but I always liked the fact that he never got too high or too low. He was the same guy, win or lose. I look back at his time here now differently. He made the playoffs just once (2007) and had a winning record twice (2005, 2007) in seven years. He wasn’t exactly Rex Ryan with the media, and Indians fans never really took to him. So when he returns to Cleveland with his Seattle Mariners, it is always fun to watch him squirm.
Let us put it out there – his team is not good. Between the Minnesota Twins Monday and Tuesday and the Mariners Wednesday and Thursday, the Tribe has seen the soft underbelly of the American League and they have liked it. Actually, they have loved it. But torturing their old manager is twice the fun.
Just a quick 14 hours after dispatching King Felix Hernandez, the Wahoos took their shots at Hector Noesi. It seemed like a relatively easy task, considering how they handled Hernandez a night earlier. For the first six innings however, the Tribe offense looked like they normally do on these getaway day, putrid. Since the beginning of last year, the Indians had lost nine of their 10 weekday afternoon home games and were outscored 65-26. Their lone win was a 1-0 shutout of the Red Sox last April.
Noesi held the Indians to scoreless into the seventh on just five hits. After giving up an infield single to Casey Kotchman, Noesi K’d Jose Lopez. Strangely, out of the dugout came Eric Wedge to get Noesi, despite the fact that he was in complete control. He had made 101 pitches. But Wedge most likely figured he had gotten way more out of Noesi than he expected and he had two lefties at his disposal. Lucas Luetge and his 0.00 ERA was first. He struck out Shin-Soo Choo but then walked Jason Kipnis, moving Kotchman to second. Asdrubal Cabrera would drive Kotchman in to put the Tribe on the board. They still trailed 4-1.
They fell behind because starter Zach McAllister, taking Josh Tomlin’s turn in the rotation as he sits on the DL, had some control issues. The big right-hander had walked just one batter during his first two starts while striking out 13. Yesterday afternoon, The Zach Attack walked a Ubaldo-like five Mariners. Couple those with a big Lopez error on what should have been a double play ball in the fifth and the Mariners looked to be in command.
That was until the eighth.
Down to their final six outs, the Tribe went to work against the Seattle bullpen. Righty Steve Delabar started the eighth by walking Carlos Santana. He came back to retire Michael Brantley on a smoked line drive right at shortstop Brendan Ryan and Johnny Damon on a weak pop out to second. That’s when the customary two-out Tribe lightning re-appeared. Kotchman roped a double into the right field corner. Santana stopped at third. Up stepped Lopez, who was in a prime spot to redeem himself. Had Jack Hannahan been healthy enough even to pinch hit against the right-handed Delabar, Acta would have called for him. But here was Lopez in a huge spot.
The Tribe’s decision to bring him back and send down Jason Donald was about to pay off in a big way. As I yelled “take a strike” from my seat after the count went 2-0, Lopez took Delabar’s offering off the railing of the left field wall to tie the game at four. It was old hat for Wedge – his bullpen let him down at Progressive Field.
“The count was 2-0 with two guys on base,” said Lopez. “I was looking for a fastball where I could tie the game. I was trying to do the same thing in my first two at-bats. So I went 1-for-3.”
Lopez’s big bomb was just setting the stage for the real fireworks.
Before we would get their, the Tribe would run into an issue.
In the bottom of the ninth with two outs, Seattle lefty Charlie Furbush hit Travis Hafner square on the top of his right-hand with a fastball. He stayed in the game to run, but was pinch-hit for in the 11th. After the game, Manny Acta said “It’s a soft-tissue bruise. The trainer didn’t even send him for X-rays.” Why is it that I don’t believe that? I saw the pitch and all I could think about was Choo’s broken hand last year. It was the exact same thing. Hafner still hopes to play tonight, but the hand was visibly swollen after the game and is listed day to day.
The Mariners would take a 5-4 lead in the top of the 11th on a Michael Saunders double scoring Ryan, who reached base for the fourth time on the day, despite his .153 batting average. Wedge called for his closer, Brandon League, who the Tribe has owned these past two seasons. He had blown two saves against the Indians last season in another in April in Seattle. Consider him the 10’s version of Troy Percival.
League walked Lopez on four pitches to put the tying run aboard. He moved to second on a wild pitch. League would regroup with a big strike out of Choo, but that was the last out he would get. He fell behind Kipnis 3-0 before walking him on a wide 3-1 pitch. That put the Tribe’s best hitter, Cabrera, in a prime RBI position. Asdrubal came through with a sharp single to right to tie the game at five. Hafner’s spot was next, but he couldn’t grip a bat, so Acta had no choice but to go to Aaron Cunningham with the winning run on third (Shelley Duncan had already pinch-hit for Damon and Hannahan wasn’t available). Luckily League couldn’t find the plate and threw three straight balls to Cunningham before eventually walking him on a 3-1 count to load the bases.
“My control was just absolutely unacceptable,” League said. “I can’t remember the last time I walked three guys in a third of an inning. When I wasn’t handing out free passes and I did get the ball down, it was right down the middle.”
It was Carlos Santana’s time to be the hero.
With League struggling to throw strikes, Carlos was able to work the count full, wait for a fastball, and take it right threw the middle for a walkoff RBI single. Poor Eric Wedge had to be mortified.
“I know he throws a hard sinker — 95 mph,” Santana said. “It’s very important for me, when I go to the plate, to think about trying to have good contact up the middle.”
The 6-5 comeback win was their fourth in a row on an absolutely perfect day at Progressive Field. Its a shame when I looked at the crowd and thought “there are more people in here than I expected” and the announced attendance was just 12,894. This weekend is supposed to be absolutely beautiful. Your baseball team is in first place and on a four-game winning streak. There are no excuses. COME OUT AND WATCH THIS TEAM PLAY.
The Miami Marlins will be in town for the first Interleague Series of the year. You have a very intriguing pitching matchup with the Indians sending Justin Masterson (1-3, 5.40 ERA) out tonight against the rejuvenated Carlos Zambrano (1-2, 1.88 ERA).
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)