What a crazy day in sports.
NFL legend Junior Seau dies of an apparent suicide. Four current or former New Orleans Saints players were suspended for their roles in the NFL bounty scandal. The New York Rangers beat the Washington Capitals in a triple overtime classic in the NHL Playoffs. There were three walk-off home run winners in Major League Baseball, and Jered Weaver of the Angels tosses a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins. The Indians did their part on the local side of things, with a thrilling 6-3 win in Chicago to even the series with the Chicago White Sox.
The big story coming into this one was the debut of Johnny Damon, the man who the fans and the front office are looking to to provide a charge to the sagging offense. Johnny made four plate appearances, going 0-3 with a walk, and then had to be taken out of the game after six innings due to a new phrase that was running wild on twitter last night: “General Cramping.”
“I felt it in my hands, the back, the calves,” Damon said. “I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Sometimes I guess when you get jacked up and ready to go, this kind of stuff can happen. I plan to be ready tomorrow.”
As it turns out, they wouldn’t need Damon in this one to pull out the W. It was the long ball and a big time clutch hit that did it.
From the start however, it looked as if we were heading down the same road we’ve seen offensively during the last homestand. In the first inning, Jason Kipnis walked and Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a ground-rule double which forced Kipnis to stay at third. Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner then failed to come through in a strikeout sandwich with a Carlos Santana walk as the middle against Sox righty Phil Humber.
They loaded the bases again in the third with one out on a Kipnis single, a Cabrera walk, and Hafner being drilled in the knee with a pitch. Once again, nothing came of it after Santana and Choo both struck out. After these two fiascos where the Tribe stranded six runners, the numbers with the bases loaded moved to a putrid 3-26 (.115) overall and 0-14 with two out.
Here we go again? Not so fast.
Josh Tomlin, Manny Acta’s “Little Cowboy” made quick work of the Sox in the first three innings but was touched up for an Adam Dunn solo homer in the fourth. With Chicago ahead 1-0, the Tribe attack finally struck back with some two out lightning. With nobody on Cabrera walked a second time and Hafner singled, bringing Santana to the plate with another RBI chance. He took full advantage by absolutely tattooing a Humber pitch deep into the right field seats to put the Tribe on top 3-1.
The lead was short lived as Tomlin struggled in the bottom half of the frame.
The Sox had two on with two out and Tomlin had a chance to get out of the jam, but he walked Alejandro De Aza on four pitches to load the bases. The then .202 Alexei Ramirez singled to left, scoring two to tie things at three. We got our first taste of the Johnny Damon arm experience on the Ramirez hit. His throw to third was Aaron Cunningham-esque; a grounder. As long as Damon hits, we won’t care about his defense, but just prepare yourself for the fact that everyone will be running on him on any hit to left field.
After Tomlin and Humber both got through the sixth unscathed, the game turned into the battle of the bullpens. Advantage: Bullpen Mafia.
Sox lefty Will Ohman and Tribe side-arm special Joe Smith traded scoreless frames in the seventh, moving things forward. Ohman got the first two Indians in the eighth before Michael Brantley singled. Casey Kotchman, in a 2-30 skid and hitting .143 on the season, actually worked a walk, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position for Mr. Clutch himself, Jack Hannahan.
“I love coming up with guys in scoring position,” Hannahan said.
Interestingly, White Sox rookie manager Robin Ventura decided to pull the lefty Ohman for hard throwing rookie right-hander Addison Reed. Lefty, righty, knucker-baller, side-armer, it just doesn’t seem to matter to Hannahan in big spots. Jackie laced a double down the left field line scoring Brantley and putting the Indians in the lead.
It never gets old looking at these stats: Hannahan is now hitting .500 (9-18) with 15 RBIs with runners in scoring position, 8-13 (.615) with 12 RBIs with two outs and runners in scoring position!
“Jack Hannahan is a two-out, RBI machine,” said Joe Smith, who thanks to Hannahan was the winning pitcher for the first time this season.
“Early on in my career, when I’ve had guys in scoring position, I was trying to do too much,” Hannahan explained. ”I was trying to hit that home run instead of just hitting the ball the other way or hitting a ground ball up the middle. I’ve found out this year that less is more. I’m just trying to put the bat on the ball.”
The Tribe wasn’t done though. They got two huge insurance runs in the ninth thanks to a Hafner two-run blast off of lefty Matt Thornton. Hafner limped around the bases, still feeling the soreness of being hit in the knee by a a Humber pitch earlier in the game. But I will say this, Pronk looks like he is back. When he has been healthy the past year-plus, his batting eye is there. He is stinging the ball off the bat and looks closer to the man who was so good during the middle part of the last decade.
With a three-run cushion, closer Chris Perez settled in and got the Sox 1-2-3 for his eighth save. It was a gritty win for this group, who now sit alone in first place in the AL Central. They go for another series win tonight with ace Justin Masterson (0-2, 5.40 ERA) taking the hill. Its May 3rd and he is still looking for his first win of the season. The Sox counter with lefty John Danks (2-3, 6.23 ERA) who beat the Tribe on April 11th, but was shaky going just five and two-thirds and allowing four runs on seven hits.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)