It was a perfect night to be a Cleveland sports fan. I for one sat in front of my TV, popped on the Ipad, had my Iphone next to me on one side and my five-year old son on the other. I was ready for action. ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt always says “the great thing about sports is they always deliver.” Last night was no exception.
While I obviously had my eyes on the NBA Draft, the one night of the year that I actually shed the “NBA Free” tag (because of my passion for the college game), the Tribe needed some love and attention as well. Coming into Baltimore losers of five straight for the first time all year, Manny Acta called for a 4:30 team meeting to clear the decks so to speak.
“It was just basically to talk to the guys,” Acta said, “and make sure they know it’s a very long season, a roller coaster where you go up and down — how just a week ago when we left Cleveland we were sitting pretty in first place and then a week later you go through a struggle and you’re where you’re at. It’s about staying positive, sticking together and just making sure you do what you’re supposed to do and not panic and try to do too much.”
For one night at least, what Manny said seemed to resonate with his team as they laid the smack down on the Orioles 7-2.
The offense, facing the first of three left-handed starters this weekend, came alive thanks to the long ball. In the second inning, Jose Lopez opened with a single off of rookie Wei-Yin Chen. Michael Brantley followed by working a walk. After Shelley Duncan popped up (failing to move the runners into scoring position – weak), Johnny Damon stepped up.
Johnny has owned the Orioles during his illustrious career, hitting .313 with 22 homers and 80 RBIs in the Baltimore. Last night he added to his legend by taking a Chen pitch deep to right-center for a three-run blast. It happened early and gave breathing room to a Tribe starter that has been lacking during this recent skid. Shin-Soo Choo added to the lead with a solo shot in the fifth to put the Tribe up 4-0.
The starter that was able to benefit was Zach McAllister, called up earlier in the day to take the rotation spot of Jeanmar Gomez who had been shelled over the last month plus. The big right-hander was acquired from the Yankees at the trade deadline two seasons ago for Austin Kearns. A bag of baseballs would have been a steal for Kearns at the time, but feel free to call adding McAllister a heist.
Zach is a different kind of pitcher than Gomez. He is more of a strikeout guy than the finesse game that Jeanmar comes with.
“Zach is a guy who continues to make improvement, especially with his secondary pitches,” Acta said. “He had a very good slider, and his fastball sneaks up on people. We like the fact that he’s big and strong [6-6, 230] . . . one of those guys who should be able to handle 100 pitches every five days.”
In his five and two-thirds innings of work, The Attack K’d six while scattering seven hits. Yes, J.J. Hardy touched him up with a two-run homer in the fifth, but other than that mistake, McAllister pitched well.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I knew that they lost a few coming into it. I was definitely just going to go out and try to compete and do my best to help the team get a win and get them back on track. It’s definitely exciting to be back up and get off to a good start.”
Joe Smith relieved McAllister with a man on second and two outs in the sixth and retired Mark Reynolds on a comebacker.
The Tribe extended their lead a half inning later against Chen. With one out, Laser Lou Marson laced one of his patented right-center doubles (Marson loves going the other way) to the gap. After Chen walked Choo, O’s manager Buck Showalter went to his pen and called on righty Luis Ayala. Asdrubal Cabrera greeted him rudely by depositing his 2-0 pitch over the high wall in right. It was the Tribe’s third homer on the night and second three-run shot.
“A huge home run by Cabrera,” Acta said. “It was just what we needed. Every time the game is on the line, we want Cabby up there.”
Who were they last night, the Yankees?
With nine outs to go, Acta needed his pen to come through. Smith pitched a 1-2-3 seventh before turning things over to Esmil Rogers in the eighth. Rogers was perfect over the final two innings, striking out three Orioles. It was the kind of work the Indians were hoping they would get from his power arm after bringing him over from Colorado.
The 7-2 win puts the Indians back over the .500 mark at 38-37. This series is huge for many reasons, but getting themselves right again before coming home to face the very tough Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays before the All-Star break is an absolute must. They got off to a great start last night.
This evening Acta will turn to the struggling Derek Lowe (7-6, 4.28 ERA) to keep things going. The Orioles will counter with righty Jake Arrieta (3-9, 5.55 ERA)
(AP photo/Gail Burton)