Was that something special or what? And it looked as though the game wasn’t even going to be played.
All day long in Cleveland it looked like a torrential downpour would happen. The skies were ominous, but nothing more than a sprinkle hit downtown. Then at about 6:30, the heavens opened up and the rains came down. They came down hard. However, the storms blew past quickly and the game started only 25 minutes behind scheduled. I thought out loud on Twitter that a rainout wouldn’t be such a bad thing, considering the Indians had to face Justin Verlander, the game’s best pitcher.
I’m glad to say that I was wrong.
For the first six innings though, the crowd of 34,579 seemed to be sick over the $1 hot dogs they consumed. The Indians couldn’t touch Verlander other than a first inning run (Shin-Soo Choo led off with a double, was moved to third on a ground ball, and brought in on a Jason Kipnis sac fly). He was dialing up in the high-90′s as usual and the Indians could only muster three hits.
On the other side of it was Zach McAllister, who has been the Indians best starter over the past six weeks. He did his best to match Verlander pitch for pitch, but looked as though he’d be on the short end of this one. He put two on with one out in the seventh, and was lifted for side-armer Joe Smith. Manager Manny Acta was looking for a double play ball. Two nights prior, Smith had been touched up for a two-run, game-tying homer against Miguel Cabrera.
Last night, he would get his revenge.
Smitty induced a 5-4-3 inning-ending DP. It kept the Indians within striking distance at 3-1. ”The most important play of the game, defense-wise,” Acta would call it.
We may look back on it as the turning point in the season. Why? Because what came next, nobody could have expected.
Verlander came out for the seventh to face Carlos Santana, Travis Hafner, and Jose Lopez. Earlier in the game Santana and Hafner had a chance to drive in a run with two on and nobody out in the fourth. Santana grounded into a double play and Hafner grounded out. It was more of the same from these two who have struggled all season long. After that horrific display, I tweeted the following:
Wanna know why the Indians offense sputters? Santana and Hafner don’t do the jobs they are supposed to do. Its that simple
— TD (@WFNYTD) July 27, 2012
As if they wanted to stick it right to me directly, the two underachieving big bats in the middle of the Indians lineup may have changed the course of the season in the span of two pitches.
Santana took Verlander’s first pitch deep and gone to the right-center field seats to bring the Indians to within a run. Hafner took Verlander’s next pitch, another fastball, to almost the exact same spot for his 10th homer on the season. Progressive Field was up for grabs. It was, hands-down, the loudest the park has been all season.
“That was so exciting,” Santana said. “I couldn’t believe the first two pitches, me and Hafner, we got home runs. I’m so excited with the team’s comeback. ”
Oh, but they weren’t done there. Lopez would single to put the lead run on base. You don’t rattle Justin Verlander, but the Indians clearly got to him. He settled down momentarily, retiring both Casey Kotchman and Shelley Duncan, but with two out, Choo singled to keep the line moving for Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cabby has been struggling of late, but he picked a great time to get a big hit. He laced a single to right, scoring Lopez. Kipnis followed with a line drive off of the glove of shortstop Ramon Santiago. Choo would score on the play. The Tribe scored four runs on six hits, sending nine men to the plate in the seventh against Verlander.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
At 5-3 with six outs left, Acta turned things over to Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez.
Vinnie knifed through the Tigers in order with a surgical touch. Nobody knows or talks about him nationally, but V.F.P. is the best set-up man in the game right now, bar none. The guy is having an unbelievable season. He’s allowed just one earned run in his last 20 appearances, spanning back to the beginning of June. In every big spot, the guy seems to come through, no matter who he faces.
Perez put two on in the ninth, but got through for his 29th save. He is now seven for seven against the Tigers this season. Incredible when you consider the Indians have played the Tigers nine times and are now 7-2. Their success against Detroit is the reason they are not dead and buried in the division and sit just 3.5 games back.
“We were talking about it when Detroit came in,” Smith said. “We’re confident against the Tigers when they come in. We’ve played well against the Tigers and, for the past two years, we’ve played well against the Tigers at our park. We really came together, whatever it was.”
What a monster comeback win this was for our boys. We may look back at this one and say it was the game that changed everything. The Indians are a resilient group, a true reflection of their manager. They looked like their season was about to fall apart after losing three straight at home this weekend to Baltimore and falling under .500, but with Detroit looming, they righted their ship, winning three of the next four. Our Wahoos now head on a nine-game road trip through three AL Central teams – Minnesota, Kansas City, and another meeting with the Detroit.
It is absolutely imperative that they take care of business against that soft underbelly of the division before flying to Detroit next weekend. Things get started tonight at Target Field in Minneapolis. Josh Tomlin (5-7, 5.34 ERA), who like Derek Lowe, probably knows he needs to pitch well to stay in the rotation, will take the mound for the Tribe. He will face left-hander Scott Diamond (8-4, 3.16). The last time he faced the Tribe, he went seven innings, allowing three unearned runs in a 6-3 Twins win.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)