I attended last Thursday afternoon’s 9-2 Indians win over Oakland at Progressive Field. It was an absolutely perfect day; mid-70’s and sunny. We are talking shorts and t-shirt weather. Fast forward four days and I was breaking out the winter coat and gloves that I had put away about three weeks ago as the Indians and the New York Yankees played a traditional doubleheader.
There is certainly a buzz in the city about our Tribe. They entered this double dip winners of 12 of 14 and tied for first place in the AL Central. While the vibe was palpable, it had yet to translate into any real attendance spike.
Talking about attendance at Progressive Field is my least favorite topic. The Indians have been bad for five straight years. There hasn’t been a lot of trust between the fans, ownership, and the front office. The season ticket base had dwindled down to historic Progressive/Jacobs Field lows (though the Indians never speak on the subject, it is believed that the base is about 6,500). It takes years to build that trust back up. With Terry Francona and his shiny new toys on board, the Wahoos want to be more than just relevant in Cleveland again. They want to be the top dogs.
A month and a half into the 2013 season, Francona’s group has thrived on the field. After an 8-1 homestand, they went to Detroit, took two of three from the Tigers and rode home for the doubleheader on a high. It was two games back to back on a Monday afternoon at noon, with game time temperatures in the mid-40’s. As I walked up to the Stadium from Tower City, and into the plaza, I saw a huge walk-up line at the ticket windows. By the middle of game one, the entire lower bowl, bleachers, and mezzanine sections were all full. Wherever there was sun in the upper deck between the bases, fans covered the seats.
Most times these weekday afternoon games are lucky to draw 10,000 in paid attendance. The doubleheader with the Yankees drew 23,299. People are starting to climb on-board. There is plenty of room to join us!
Now to the games….
The opener featured a pitcher’s duel between Cleveland’s Justin Masterson and New York right-hander David Phelps. While Masterson is the Indians ace, Phelps is a back end filler guy for the Yanks. In the first, it didn’t appear that it would go this way. Michael Bourn led off with a walk and took off to steal second. He got a great jump and looked to slide in safely withe ease. However, second base umpire Brian Knight blew the call and ruled Bourn out. Replays showed it wasn’t close. Naturally, Jason Kipnis took the next Phelps pitch over the wall in right for a solo home run. From that point on, the Tribe didn’t touch Phelps. He K’d Asdrubal Cabrera and Nick Swisher to end the first and the duel was on.
Masterson and Phelps took turns trading zeroes and making hitters look silly. Neither guy got into any real trouble, other than Masterson loading the bases in the second with two outs before striking out Alberto Gonzalez to end the threat.
While the Tribe was running up the pitch count on Phelps, Masterson continued to cruise. The score stayed 1-0 into the ninth inning and Francona had zero qualms about sticking with his horse, who came firing out of the dugout to a standing ovation to face the Yankees 3-4-5 hitters. He dispatched of Robinson Cano and Travis Hafner, setting up the final out. Brennan Boesch hit a ground ball to short where Cabrera for some reason read the ball completely wrong for a single. It was the first hit Masterson allowed that left the infield. It wouldn’t end up coming into play as the Big Nasty struck out pinch hitter Vernon Wells to finish up his second complete game shutout of the season. He is the first Indian with two, 1-0 complete game wins since 1989.
“Masty went out and did exactly what you want your ace to do,” Francona said. “From the very first pitch of the game he had power, he had a breaking ball, he attacked hitters.”
Francona could have gone to closer Chris Perez, who was warming up just in case in the ninth, but he never had to use him. “There was no wiggle room because we had one run,” Francona said, “and he (Masterson) made it stand. I get a big kick out of watching him because he enjoys pitching.”
Playing with house money, the Wahoos headed to game two with rookie phenom Trevor Bauer set to make his third spot start of the season. The kid is known for his five-pitch repertoire, but has shown a lack of command at times. Bauer also has a knack for wiggling his way out of trouble. In the second game, Bauer pretty much pitched to his scouting report.
In the first, two infield singles and an error caused an unearned run which put the Indians behind the eight ball right from the start. The offense, which averaged 6.5 runs per game during the 12-2 run, couldn’t get on track all day. This time, it was rookie Vidal Nuno, a former Indians draft pick, that stymied them. The left-hander did nothing really special, but the Indians just could never figure him out. He threw a lot of first pitch strikes and got ahead of Tribe hitters. In the end, they just couldn’t put anything together.
As for Bauer, he kept the Tribe in it for six innings. Pitching deeper into any game than he has in a Major League uniform, Bauer shut down the Yankees on four hits with just two walks. But in the seventh, Francona took a calculated risk by sending his rookie back out to the mound. It didn’t work.
Rookie Corban Joseph delivered his first major league hit, a double, to open the frame. After a failed Gonzalez bunt attempt, another rookie, Austin Romine, doubled in Joseph for the second Yankee run of the game. Francona emerged from the dugout and called for lefty Nick Hagadone, who has had command issues of his own lately.
Hagadone walked Brett Gardner and then gave up an RBI single to ex-Indian Jayson Nix. It was 3-0 and still a manageable game. Nick would strike out Cano for a key second out, but just couldn’t finish the job. Wells would single in Gardner and Lyle Overbay’s two-run double broke the game open.
Bauer’s book was closed – six and a third innings pitched, six hits, two earned runs, four strikeouts, and two walks. He bobbed and weaved his way through, and gave his team a chance to win.
Said his manager: “I’ll tell you what. There’s so much to like about him, and he’s still developing, but even in the midst of that — you know, coming up like he does isn’t the easiest thing to do — and he gives us a chance to win every time he pitches.”
Bauer never seems to high or low about his performances.
“I can be a lot better than I was today, and I was a lot better today than I have been this year,” said Bauer. “I’m definitely moving in the right direction.”
The 7-0 Yankees win split the doubleheader as two first places teams headed out of town. The red hot Indians offense only scored one run on 10 hits during the two games.
“We were a little tired today. It showed,” Swisher said. “But to be able to come out of that with a split, I mean, we’ve got to be happy with that. We were dragging a little bit. … Maybe that second game, we didn’t really bring it as much as we should have. Sometimes that’s going to happen.”
Up next for the Indians is a trip to Philadelphia for a two-game set with the Phillies. Tonight’s game will feature Scott Kazmir (2-1, 4.87 ERA) coming off of his 10 strikeout, no walk win over Oakland five days ago. Philadelphia will throw Jonathan Pettibone (2-0, 3.63 ERA)