Brandon Phillips kills the Indians. Its a bit that comes up every single year and sticks in the craw of Tribe fans to an endless degree. It was April 7th of 2006, more than six years ago, but it is a day that will live in Indians infamy. It was the day they gave up on a talented and uber confident kid second baseman because he was out of options and the manager didn’t like his attitude. Swagger is a better word for it.
Then GM Mark Shapiro and his manager Eric Wedge were in the midst of their “partnership,” which we all know now was horrible mistake on Shapiro’s part. The GM always picks the players, and the manager’s job is to play the hand he is dealt and make it successful. Instead back in 2006, Wedge’s affinity for utility man Ramon Vazquez and his dislike of Brandon Phillips rough exterior won out. Shapiro made the final call and dealt Phillips to the Reds for reliever Jeff Stevens. They gave up on him at age 25.
Vazquez played 34 games for the Indians that season as a backup and 310 games total over the next three years. He is now out of baseball. Phillips has gone on to become a two-time all-star, a three-time Gold Glove winner, and one of the best second baseman in the game. On top of that, the Indians watch him torture them year in and year out in interleague play.
Last night was no different.
With the Indians trailing 3-2 in the seventh, Phillips tattooed a Nick Hagadone pitch deep into the Cincinnati night for a two-run shot. Watching that ball fly out of Great American Ballpark made all Indians fans feel like they had been punched in the gut. The homer was the dagger in the Reds 5-3 win, giving them the chance to go for a sweep this afternoon.
Wedge is long gone, but Phillips has never forgotten how the Indians sent him packing. He hasn’t stopped making them pay either. In 37 games against his former team, Phillips is hitting .347 (50-144) with 8 HR and 26 RBIs. He went 3-3 last night and made a spectacular bare-handed play to get Lonnie Chisenhall in the second.
“It feels good to beat the team I just came from,” he said. “They’re a great organization, I wish them the best, but when they come here, we’ve got to let them know we’re here. You always want to be the best team in Ohio.”
The Indians offense really could never get off the ground against righty Mat Latos, who had been struggling with his command most of the year. They had their chances, but never could come up with the back-breaking hit. They loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth, but only managed to get one run on a Casey Kotchman grounder. That came after Johnny Damon looked bad striking out looking.
Their second run came in the sixth on another RBI groundout, this one by Damon. I know the play got a run in, but that only occurred because the Damon ground ball was so weakly hit. Johnny’s defense cost the Indians a run in the fifth when he butchered a Joey Votto double to left. The Indians really have no other option in left so Damon will keep getting at-bats, but this .178 business with bad defense is just killing us.
“We just couldn’t execute offensively,” Manny Acta said. “That pretty much killed us. That fourth inning, when we had the bases loaded, and ended up scoring only one run, I thought that was our opportunity to do some damage. If you want to win a ballgame, you ought to be able to score more than one run with the bases loaded and no outs. Unfortunately, we didn’t do it.”
Jose Lopez’s solo shot off of Reds close Aroldis Chapman in the ninth was the only run the Tribe scored on a hit. It was an impressive feat considering Chapman gunned the pitch up triple digits.
While the game may have had little drama, there were some postgame fireworks thanks to Tribe starter Derek Lowe, who took the loss in this one. In the fifth inning, Latos’s first pitch to Lowe was a fast ball up and in. Lowe stepped out and started to gesture towards the Reds dugout. It seemed odd at the time. After the game, we would find out why. Lowe and Reds manager Dusty Baker clearly have some bad blood. Derek has never been shy about letting the media know what he is feeling. He let loose afterwards on Baker, saying he ordered Latos to throw at him.
“You can go ask him. He’ll deny it like he has no idea,” Lowe said of Baker. “To say it didn’t come from Dusty … Mat Latos was with the San Diego Padres the last four years, he has no idea what’s going on. Again, you can ask him and he’ll say he doesn’t know about it, like he always does.”
“This goes back to my last year with the Dodgers. … You can go ask [Baker] right now, and he’ll say he has no idea what you’re talking about. But just watch the game. Mat Latos has nothing to do with anything that has gone on. How would he know? Why in the (world) would you throw a 96 mph fastball, first pitch, inside to a pitcher? Ask him.”
“I have zero respect for the guy — not that it matters. I imagine he’d say the same about me.”
Man I love Derek Lowe.
Meanwhile, the Indians need to take this afternoon’s 12:35 tilt to avoid being swept and finishing their road trip on the down side of .500. They are currently 4-4 on the nine-game swing. The Tribe will send Josh Tomlin (3-3, 4.96 ERA) to the mound against Reds righty Mike Leake (2-5, 4.97 ERA).
(AP Photo/Al Behrman)