So sadly for all of you, I am back in the saddle and like Jon discussed the last two days, watching the Tribe in this series has been about as fun as breaking down Browns OTA’s thus far. I love this team with a passion unlike many of you, yet at times, loving them is a painful experience.
Last night’s affair had Justin Masterson facing off with righty Jeremy Hellickson. This was supposed to be a pitchers duel between two offensively challenged teams. Instead, neither starter made it past the sixth inning. It didn’t look as if it would happen that way early.
Michael Brantley led off the second inning with a triple. All the Tribe needed was a fly ball or a ground ball to the right side out of Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner. The Rays were conceding the run at third, but Santana couldn’t make contact and struck out. Rays manager Joe Maddon called for the infield to come in, which of course befuddled the man I will be referring to as “Hackner” on Twitter until he proves otherwise. The giant of a man weakly grounded out to second and Brantley was held at third. Johnny Damon, who certainly wasn’t going to be coming up big in this spot, hit a chopper to first to end the inning.
SIDE NOTE – Later in the game, Hafner twice singled with two out and nobody on base. He also K’d in the fifth after Santana led off with a walk and grounded into a double play in the ninth with a man on and one out. With runners on base this season, he is 13-81 (.160). With runners in scoring position, he is 7-55 (.127). That is exactly what you want from a guy making $14 million and clogging up your DH spot #SarcasmFont. I long for the day that this tease is no longer our problem.
Meanwhile, Masterson put runners on in each of the first five innings. The Rays got two in second on Elliot Johnson’s RBI single and a sacrifice fly from B.J. Upton. Something that both Santana and Hafner could not do (neither did Damon, but I have very low expectations for him). Two more crossed an inning later thanks to the wildness of J Mast (three walks), some clutch hitting from Tribe killer Luke Scott (RBI single) and the speed of Desmond Jennings (bunt single on a safety squeeze where nobody was covering first).
With the way the Indians offense has been going this week, a 4-0 deficit seemed somewhat insurmountable. But in the top of the fifth, the Wahoos showed some fight.
With Santana on first with two out (you think Damon got a hit after the Hafner K?), Hellickson, who was in control, hit Casey Kotchman with a pitch. It proved to be one of the biggest plays of the game. Jack Hannahan came to the plate in a spot he was so good in earlier this year. Two men were on with two out. Jackie laced a double to the gap in left center, bringing in Santana and Kotchman. Choo then followed with a big RBI hit of his own, scoring Hannahan. At 4-3, the Indians were right back in this one.
Masterson, who entered the game 1-7 with a 7.69 ERA in his career against Tampa Bay, couldn’t solve the Rays again. After he loaded the bases in the fifth on two walks and a single with one out, manager Manny Acta smartly pulled the plug on his ace before he could put more gasoline on the fire. He walked seven and gave up seven hits in four and a third. Esmil Rogers was summoned from the pen and came through when his team really needed it. He struck out Elliot Johnson for the second out and got Upton on a fielder’s choice to kill the Rays rally.
Nobody will mention it, but Esmil’s inning and two-thirds of scoreless work was big time. “Esmil was fantastic, he pretty much saved the game for us,” Acta said. Rogers bought time for the Indians offense to erupt. And boy did they.
The top of the seventh arrived and Maddon decided to yank Hellickson (six innings, three earned runs, five hits, one walk) in favor of former close Kyle Farnsworth. He retired the first two Indians with little problems. The issue for Farnsworth is that you need to get three outs to end an inning. Earlier in the season, when the Tribe was making their run, it was the two-out hit that was their calling card offensively. Last night, they showed it again at the right time.
Choo singled to keep the inning alive. Asdrubal Cabrera (who has three hits on the night) singled as well, moving Choo to third. Maddon decided he had seen enough of Farnsworth and went to lefty Jake McGee, his set-up man. On a 1-2 count, McGee threw what he thought to be strike three at the knees to Jason Kipnis. Umpire Dan Iaasonga called it a ball. Kipnis then fouled off the next three pitches before singling up the middle to tie the game at four. Brantley, the Tribe’s hottest bat, then gave his team a 5-4 lead with a seeing eye single back up the box that scored Asdrubal. An incensed Maddon came out to talk to McGee and went right at Iassonga for the ball call to Kipnis and was tossed from the game.
The damage was far from over.
We’ve all killed Santana for his horrific season. Nobody seems to know why he has played the way he has and we are all waiting for him to break out. On this night, he did. Ahead in the count 2-0, McGee made the mistake over throwing a get-me-over fastball to Carlos, which he deposited over the center field fence for a three-run, back breaking homer. It was Santana’s first blast since May 15th (a span of 138 ABs) and just his sixth on the year.
Said Acta on his struggling catcher: “I know that’s been weighing on him, especially the power drought that he’s had. It’s hard on those guys. It takes patience. We do have the patience, but we’re not the one actually failing like he is. He must be feeling a lot better today.”
Remember, all of this started with two outs and nobody on.
“That’s what made me happy,” Acta said. “It’s been a while since we got into that. Today we were just yelling in the dugout, ‘Come on! Two-out rally. Comeback. Let’s go. Two-out rally.’ It happened. The guys just put together some tremendous at-bats.”
It was 8-4 and the Indians were in that magical spot where they seem to be all but unbeatable; with a lead in the seventh inning.
Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, and Vinnie Pestano held the lead and the offense added two more insurance runs in the ninth. Clutch Kipnis drove in Cabrera with another single to left and Santana brought home Kipnis with a single to right.
Jeremy Accardo recorded the final three outs for the 10-6 win, one the Indians seemed to need badly.
While the entire world knows the Indians desperately need another bat, its amazing how much better they can look when Santana produces how he is supposed to. Maybe this will be the game that gets him back on track. Asdrubal came into the night in the midst of a 6-48 skid and had three hits. Again, the guys who they are counting on have to hit to their potential. Yes, that won’t solve the left field problem, but it will certainly go a long way towards helping the Tribe stay in the playoff hunt.
With the 10-6, the Indians at worst will split this four-game set in Tampa. The series finale will be an afternoon tilt that will feature a pitching matchup of Ubaldo Jimenez (8-8, 5.09 ERA) and lefty David Price (12-4, 2.80 ERA).
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)