This was the kind of game that we had come to expect from the Indians when they were acting as if they wanted to contend. Show some good starting pitching, come up with timely hits, play solid defense, and get the ball to the back end of the bullpen with a lead. OK, it wasn’t as smooth as it sounded, but nevertheless it was the formula behind last night’s 6-2 win in Anaheim.
The Los Angeles Angels are supposed to be one of the better teams in the American League. Their owner, Artie Moreno, is one of these stop at nothing to win kind of guys. In the offseason, he broke the bank to not only sign the biggest fish of them all, Albert Pujols, to a ridiculous 10-year $240 million contract, but then he went out and gave last night’s starter, C.J. Wilson, a five-year $77.5 million deal out of nowhere. Just before the trade deadline, Moreno signed off on trading one of his top prospects for a rental, ace starting pitching Zack Grienke.
While Moreno and his GM, former Indians reliever Jerry Dipoto, can boast of a rotation with Jered Weaver, Wilson, Grienke, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana to go along with Pujols and young studs Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout, sometimes it just doesn’t work out like you hoped it would.
I watched a listless Angels team be completely shut down by the struggling Justin Masterson for six innings before the bullpen closed the door. I looked at the standings to see that this team is 60-56, just four games over .500 and eight games out of first place in the AL West. They went 0-9 with runners in scoring position and grounded into a pair of double plays. And it is not as if Masterson has been a world beater of late.
But let us focus on our team. The plucky Indians were once again facing their kryptonite, a left-handed starter. But in this one, they were able to get to the overpaid Wilson. In the third, Brent Lillibridge (who had two more hits and reached base three times) was safe at first on a ball that went off the glove of second baseman Howie Kendrick for an error. Casey Kotchman’s groundout moved him to second. After falling behind Wilson 1-2, Laser Lou Marson worked a beautiful at-bat for a walk, bringing Jason Donald to the plate.
Donald has started the last four games with regular second baseman Jason Kipnis nursing a stiff neck. He has swung the bat well, and this AB was no different. Donald roped a sharp single up the middle to put the Tribe on the board. Asdrubal Cabrera then followed by taking a pitch the other way into right-field scoring Marson. The Tribe would build on that lead in the fourth thanks to Lillibridge’s second homer as an Indian.
The utility man has already done more in two weeks than Aaron Cunningham did here in three months. He’s gone 11-38 (.289) with a pair of homers, two steals, and nine runs score in 13 games as an Indian. Cunningham had 17 hits in 97 at-bats (.175). Not to mention the fact that Lillibridge can play every position on the field except pitcher and catcher.
Meanwhile, Masterson was cruising with that 3-0 lead into the seventh, allowing just four hits and three walks.
“In the last start I was able to get into a good spot and was able to carry it into this one,” said Masterson. “The goal for me is to finish strong. If that happens, it will help the team to finish strong.”
Trumbo opened the frame with a high chopper to third that resulted in an infield single. Alberto Callaspo followed with a single of his own and Tribe manager Manny Acta had seen enough. It was time to go to his three-headed bullpen monster.
Joe Smith was first.
He retired Kendrick on a fly ball and then struck out Erick Aybar and Chris Iannetta to end any threat the Angels tried to mount.
“The key relief was Joe Smith,” Acta said. “He did a fantastic job coming into that situation.”
The eighth inning was Vinnie Pestano time. The So-Cal native was pitching in front of family and friends and riding an incredible 21 inning scoreless streak. June 27th was the last time he allowed an earned run. Lets just say he was due. After walking Trout and getting Torii Hunter to fly to center, Pujols touched him up for a deep blast to left, bringing the Angels to within one run at 3-2. It was the first homer Pestano has allowed since April 14th.
That “here we go again” feeling was upon us once again, but Pestano calmly retired the next two Angels.
In the top of the ninth, looking insurance, the Wahoo attack actually delivered. Ezequiel Carrera, now in left field replacing Shelley Duncan who started against the lefty, singled. Lillibridge and Kotchman followed with singles of their own against lefty Hisanori Takahashi to load the bases with nobody out. Angels skipper Mike Scioscia called for right-handed veteran Jason Isringhausen in attempts to stop the bleeding. However, he couldn’t find the plate against Marson, and walked in a run. Kipnis, pinch hitting for Donald, came through with a sacrifice fly to stretch the Tribe lead to 5-2 and after Cabrera K’d, Kotchman would come home on a wild pitch.
Since it was a non-save situation at the time, Acta started the ninth with Esmil Rogers. After giving up back to back singles, Manny emerged from the dugout to call for his closer. Chris Perez was absolutely filthy. In perhaps his best appearance of the season, Pure Rage struck out the next three Angels, Aybar, Iannetta, and Trout to end the game. It was the 100th save of his career.
“I knew it was my 100th save. In this day and age, it’s hard not to with all the media people around. But I’m just trying to do my job. Honestly it’s just another day to me,” Perez said. “I don’t look at numbers or anything like that. I was just happy to get the win for us.”
Indeed. The Tribe had just been bombed 14-1 a day earlier and the old Earl Weaver baseball adage came true – “momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.” Masterson came to play in this one and helped erase that miserable Sunday team performance.
Tonight’s 10:05 EST affair should be a fun one to watch as the Tribe sends Ubaldo Jimenez (9-11, 5.25 ERA) out to the mound to face the afformentioned Grienke (0-1, 5.68 in three starts with the Angels ).
(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)