Think back a week ago at this time. The Tribe had just pulled off an incredible comeback win against the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander. Many, including yours truly, thought maybe, just maybe, the Indians weren’t dead yet and they had gotten that season turning win that would spring board them back into contention in both the AL Central and the Wild Card races.
But what a difference a week makes.
I’m not sure if this is rock bottom for the Indians, but back to back sweeps at the hands of the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals sure feels like it. This flawed group still has the solid core, but there are just too many holes on the 25-man roster.
In attempts to plug one of those holes, embattled GM Chris Antonetti called on his first reserve from AAA Columbus, right-hander Corey Kluber, while dumping 39-year old veteran Derek Lowe. Kluber takes the Josh Tomlin spot in the rotation and before last night’s game, Manager Manny Acta said that he would be given a long leash so they could evaluate him at the major league level. They still need another starter to take Lowe’s spot until Roberto Hernandez is ready.
The old adage is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. What Kluber left Indians fans with in his first inning as a Major League starter had Indians fans searching for their remotes almost immediately.
SIDE NOTE – in the top of the first, Shin-Soo Choo singled and stole second. Then for some reason, he opted to steal third on his own with one out and was gunned down. Naturally, Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a single, costing the Indians a run that would have been the potential game-winner.
Kluber’s first pitch of the game was deposited over the right field wall by Alex Gordon. Alcedes Escobar then singled and stole second. Lorenzo Cain singled in Escobar. Kluber recovered to the retire Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas, but then, the Royals clubbed him over the head. He walked backup catcher Brayan Pena before serving up a three-run blast to struggling rookie first baseman Eric Hosmer. Chris Getz’s triple preceded Jerome Dyson’s RBI single.
“I just caught too much of the plate with some pitches,” said Kluber. “They’re an aggressive team.”
When all was said and done, the Royals scored six runs on six hits, hit two homers, and stole two bases.
For some reason, maybe I am a masochist, I continued to watch this game. I knew it was a 6-0 deficit with an offense that hasn’t scored six runs in a game since July 18th, but I wanted to see how they would respond.
Say what you want about how Manny Acta’s teams have finished these last two seasons, but the staple of his leadership is that his players don’t give up and they continue to play hard for him. Last night they could have easily folded the tent and said “screw it, let’s move on to tomorrow.” But they didn’t. They fought hard and made it all the way back.
Said Jason Kipnis: ”We had every reason in the world just to kind of go back into the hole that we’ve been in for the last five games. I was actually very happy with the way this team battled tonight.”
They got on the board with a run in the second on a Vinny Rotino sacrifice fly and jumped right back into it in the third. With one out, the top of the Indians order – Choo, Brent Lillibridge, Cabrera, and Carlos Santana – delivered four straight singles off of lefty Bruce Chen, inching the Tribe closer at 6-3. Michael Brantley would follow with a sacrifice fly scoring Cabrera. After walking Jose Lopez, Chen was lifted.
In the meantime, Kluber settled down nicely after his horrific first inning struggles and didn’t allow another run as he pitched into the fifth. ”The kid had a very rough first inning,” Acta said. “But, after that, he gave us a few good innings. I liked what I saw out there. I liked the stuff.
Lefty Everett Teaford was next for the Royals. He retired the first four men he faced, but the Tribe would get back to even against him in the fifth. Lillibridge delivered his second hit of the game and stole second base (did Aaron Cunningham ever have a multi-hit game or even attempt to steal a base? I know, I need to get past my obsession with the 25th man on the roster). An out later, the red-hot Santana tied the game with a two-run shot to left.
Over his last 15 games, Carlos has really kicked up his game a notch, hitting .327 (16-49) with six homers, six doubles, and 15 RBIs. Where was this over the last two months when the Indians really could have used it?
From this point on, it became a battle of the bullpens. Or should I say, it became a game of which team is going to figure out how to push one run across while looking so bad at the plate.
For as great as the Royals were in the first, it was almost as like they forgot how to push a run across. Kluber, Tony Sipp (who now has allowed just two earned runs in his last 12 innings pitched), Joe Smith, and Vinnie Pestano completely shut down the Royals for eight innings. They were matched by a bevy of Royals relievers who allowed just one Tribe hit over the last five innings.
In the end, Esmil Rogers, in his second inning of work, put the winning run on base with nobody out. With two out and a man on third, Acta called for Gordon to be intentionally walked to get to Escobar. He summoned closer Chris Perez from the pen. Escobar was 0-5 in his career against Pure Rage. He got behind 1-2 in the count, and then found a hole between short and third for a walkoff single.
Again, while the Royals took this one 7-6, pushing the Indians to their season-worst sixth loss in a row, there was no quit in Acta’s club.
“Even when we were in a big hole, they just continued to push,” Acta said. “Other than not winning, I’m happy with the way things went today compared to the prior games.”
The horrific, season defining nine-game road trip within the division now takes the Tribe to Detroit, where they will take on the Tigers. Justin Masterson (7-9, 4.47 ERA) will take the mound tonight for the Indians. He will face off against Doug Fister (5-7, 3.77 ERA).
(photo via John Sleezer/Kansas City Star)