It is a bit on the dramatic side to call a game on July 23rd a “must win” for any baseball team, but if anyone needed a W last night, it was your Cleveland Indians. With the Detroit Tigers, winners of five straight and eight of ten, swooping into first place and coming to town Tuesday for a three-game set, it was imperative that the Wahoos break out of their funk and get back in the win column. They lost all three over the weekend to Baltimore Orioles and looked horrible doing so. Naturally, they did so in front of three huge Progressive Field crowds.
The Tigers can smell the blood in the AL Central water, so they went out and traded their top pitching prospect, Jacob Turner, along with two other prospects to the Miami Marlins for starter Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante. They filled their two biggest holes in one fell swoop. The Indians? Well, they are just trying to stay afloat and see what happens during this next key week before the July 31st trade deadline.
“That’s the last thing you want to do — start a series with [Detroit] on a five-game losing streak,” Manager Manny Acta said
In search of some sort of spark, Acta turned to his ace Justin Masterson, who outside of his two starts against his nemesis, the Tampa Bay Rays, has been solid since the beginning of June. His team needed him badly in this one, and the Amish-bearded Masterson came through big time.
Unlike his last time out, Masterson had all of his pitches working, including his power sinker, and dominated the Orioles into the eighth inning, scattering seven hits and walking just one. He struck out six.
Said Acta: “He did what we expect our No. 1 guy to do, to go out there and shut down the opposition. … When he’s good, sinking it down, it doesn’t matter who you put out there. That was the case today.”
The offense again didn’t do much to help their starter. Other than Shin-Soo Choo’s third inning two-run blast off of Tommy Hunter, they spent the majority of the evening failing to come through with runners on base. Stop me if you have heard this one before.
So with the score 2-1 heading to the eighth and stud set-up man Vinnie Pestano ready in the pen, Acta stayed with Masterson who had thrown under 90 pitches. After retiring Omar Quintanilla, Nick Markakis singled. That would be all for Masterson who walked off the mound to a standing ovation. Pestano sprinted in from the pen to face Endy Chavez and Jim Thome, two left-handed batters (not having a lefty reliever Acta can count on is just one of the many flaws of this team).
Chavez rudely greeted Pestano with a double into the left field corner. As defensive replacement Aaron Cunningham came up with the ball in the corner and fired to cut off man Asdrubal Cabrera, Markakis had already rounded third. He was half way home before he suddenly stopped for some odd reason. Asdrubal bobbled the ball before firing home. Carlos Santana and third baseman Jack Hannahan would have Markakis caught in a run down for the big second out. Had Markakis just kept running, the game would have been tied at two.
“It was 99.9 percent my fault,” Markakis said. “I should have picked up my third-base coach and by the time I saw him I didn’t see him do anything so I was using my own judgment. I thought I was going to get there. I heard him as I was going past the bag. I stopped and froze. I should have kept going,” he said. “I should have made them make two good throws and get me out. It didn’t end up good. It was bad baserunning on my part.”
Pestano then K’d old friend Jim Thome for the final out, preserving the one run lead.
In the bottom of the eighth, it looked as though the Tribe would finally get that big inning that has eluded them for the last four days. Choo and Cabrera would single to start the frame. Facing reliever Troy Patton, Jason Kipnis laid down a beauty of a bunt and beat it out to load the bases. But as we know with this team, a bases loaded with nobody out situation seems to be their kryptonite. However, they had the right guy coming to the plate, Michael Brantley.
Brantley pushed an RBI single into left field to bring in Choo with a huge insurance run. The bases were still loaded with nobody out, but they wouldn’t score again. With the infield drawn in, Carlos Santana grounded to Quintanilla at short, who fired home to get Cabrera for the first out. Travis Hafner, ahead 3-0 in the count, struck out to move his RISP average to .136 on the season. He is hitting .169 with runners on as well. (There will be plenty of time to deal Hafner if someone should want him. He will easily clear waivers with his joke of a $14 million salary and can still moved by August 31st if the Indians so choose.)
The Indians last chance to add more came in the form of my favorite whipping boy, Cunningham. Why is it that every time he gets an at-bat late in a game, its when the Indians could really use a run. I bet you can’t guess what happened?
With a 3-1 lead in the ninth, it was closer Chris Perez’s time to shine. As he has done all year, Pure Rage easily disposed of the Orioles 1-2-3 for his 27th save on the season. If there was ever a time for a great pitching performance, it was this one. Acta went with his three horses, Masterson, Pestano, and Perez, and they got the job done (with a little help from Markakis).
Now the big showdown series with the Tigers is here. Detroit has their top three pitchers lined up over the next three games, starting with Doug Fister (4-6, 4.04) tonight. The Indians will counter with Ubaldo Jimenez (8-9, 5.24 ERA). The good news is that the Tribe has played well against the Tigers this season, winning five of six. However, both teams are playing completely different baseball then they were last faced each other in early June.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)