It doesn’t get much worse than yesterday in the wacked out world that is Cleveland Sports. Late morning brought us the news that the Cavaliers had relieved Byron Scott of his duties leaving Terry Francona, on the job all of 13 games and all of six and a half months as the longest tenured manager/coach of our three major sports franchises. Then we all learned that the man who was as popular as The Beatles in this town, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, had his company and “first love” Pilot/Flying J under FBI investigation for the past two years on charges of alleged rebate fraud. According to a 120-page affidavit, Haslam had direct knowledge of the wrongdoings. Meanwhile, the Indians were trying to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox, who have done just about everything right in the first two games of the series.
Well this is Cleveland, and sometimes when it rains, it doesn’t just pour, it monsoons on us.
This is supposed to be a time of excitement and hope. The NFL Draft is a week away. The NBA Playoffs are starting this weekend. The baseball season is just getting off the ground. The Indians are fresh with new players and a manager that is about as respected as they come. But yesterday the sports world was the dog, and our three teams were the tree.
The Tribe sent out Zach McAllister to try and end this mini-skid. Boston countered with lefty Jon Lester, who has been their version of Justin Masterson so far this season (sans J Mast’s start a night before). As they had done in the first two games of the series, Boston struck first, this time with a little help for the Tribe defense.
It was a strange weather night down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. First pitch temperature was 81 degrees. I was in short sleeves and didn’t even bring a sweatshirt or a jacket. It was that warm. However, there was a strong breeze blowing straight out to right. Leading off the second inning, Mike Napoli sent a high fly ball to right field. Ryan Raburn, getting a spot start there last night with the various injuries and the left-hander on the mound, misplayed the ball (and the wind) and watched it sailed off the wall and bounce right past him. The slow-footed Napoli ended up on third with a stand-up triple.
“I didn’t think that ball was going to go that far,” McAllister said. “But he’s a big strong hitter. Regardless of the winds or not, he can do some damage.”
Daniel Nava brought Napoli in with an RBI single to right.
All series long, the Indians have had chances at the big inning, but never seemed to capitalize. Mark Reynolds started the bottom of the second with a ground rule double. Raburn hit a deep fly ball to right to move him over to third. Mike Aviles drove him in with an RBI groundout to tie the game. That’s all the Indians offense has been this week – get em on, get em over, get em in. Stringing three or four hits together in an inning hasn’t been seen since Saturday.
In the fourth, at seemingly the drop of a hat, the winds picked up and the temperature dropped probably 10-12 degrees inside the stadium. It was the oddest thing. On the field, home plate umpire Mike Timmons was busy squeezing McAllister. An inning earlier, he punched out Michael Brantley on a pitch that was a good foot off the plate. With two outs in the fourth, The Zach Attack looked to have Jarrod Saltalamachia on a called strike three which would have ended the inning. Except Winters called the pitch a ball. Replays showed it painted the corner and was certainly more of a strike than the pitch Timmons had called Brantley out on. This moved to count full and naturally Saltalamachia took the pitch on a line drive into the Red Sox bullpen to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
After getting Stephen Drew to ground out, McAllister had some calm words with Timmons.
In the fifth, the Sox continued to work deep into counts against Z Mac and got to him. With one out, the tough top of the Boston lineup went to work. Jacob Ellsbury doubled to left-center. Shane Victorino hit a sharp single to left. Drew Stubbs, moving over to center while Michael Bourn is on the DL, showed off his cannon arm and threw a strike home. Ellsbury had to hold at third, but not for long. Dustin Pedroia provided about as quality of an at-bat as you ever want to see. He fell behind in the count, then fouled off four straight pitches, worked the count to full, and then singled the other way to score Ellsbury. McAllister managed to get out of the fifth without any further damage, but at 112 pitches, his night was over.
“I thought at times I did pretty good and at other times I didn’t,” McAllister said. “I threw way too many pitches for the innings I pitched. But I was able to stay in there and battle them.”
Meanwhile, Lester was dominating the Indians, who once again couldn’t muster anything substantial. The got one back in the bottom of the fifth, but it was again of the get em on, get em over, get em in variety. Mike Aviles doubled off the wall in left (he was almost thrown out because he was busy watching what he thought was a homer). Cord Phelps ground out moved Aviles to third where he would score on a Stubbs RBI groundout.
It was now 3-2, but the Indians poor defense once again cost them big time. It was the seventh inning. Ellsbury was on first after a leadoff single. Francona came on to replace Nick Hagadone (who pitched a scoreless sixth) with Bryan Shaw with the switch-hitting Victorino and righties Pedroia and Napoli due up. Victorino sent a bouncing ball to Phelps at second. He charged hard and booted it for an error. Phelps is now in his third stint with the Indians in the last three seasons. I’ve been told how great he looked in the spring. Thus far in a small sample size, I see the exact same guy I already know; not ready at the plate and not great defensively.
Pedroia’s fly ball to right moved the runners into scoring position. Shaw had a chance to get out of the jam, but Napoli continued his mastery of the Tribe with a single the other way, scoring Ellsbury. In the series, Napoli was 6-12 with six RBIs. Nava’s sac fly brought Victorino home. With two outs, pinch hitter Mike Carp, who had three hits a night before, drove in Napoli with an RBI single of his own.
The Tribe did try to make things interesting once they got to the Boston bullpen. They put two on against lefty Andrew Miller, who was replaced by Koji Uehara with two out to face Carlos Santana. The hottest of an ice cold group of bats doubled to bring in Brantley to inch the Wahoos closer at 6-3. This brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Nick Swisher. The rally died when Swisher K’d.
Boston closer Andrew Bailey pitched a perfect ninth for his second save in as many nights.
“It was a tough one,” Mark Reynolds said. “We just couldn’t get the big hits when we needed them. We had guys on base all series — we just couldn’t come through. It’s a little frustrating, but at the same time, we’ve got a long road trip ahead of us and we’ll go out and try to win some games.”
Francona had hoped for a better showing against his former team.
“When you’re not on the scoreboard with regularity, you need a big two-out hit, and we never got that,” he said. ”I didn’t enjoy the series much, but I’ll never get tired of seeing people I care about.”
The Indians are now 5-9, and finished their rain-shortened homestand 2-5. They will look to find their mojo on the road in Houston facing the AL’s worst team, the Astros. It should be very interesting to see how the starting pitching holds up. Brett Myers (0-2, 8.82 ERA), Scott Kazmir (making his first start), and Ubaldo Jimenez (0-2, 11.25 ERA) are slated to pitch in this three-game series. Myers gets things started tonight, facing his old team and Lucas Harrell (0-2, 5.63 ERA).
The good news is today can’t possibly be as bad as yesterday.
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)