Magnificent weather. First-place baseball. Hot Dogs. Walk-off wins. Shutout Sunday. Beating down another Cy Young Award winner in front of the home fans. I mean, honestly, could it get any better down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario this weekend?
I vowed not to discuss the attendance at Progressive Field, but after a night where 34,282 came out to support the Tribe, two weekend afternoon games drew a combined 37,000 plus. The weather was perfect. The Indians were coming off a walkoff win. They are in first place. Seriously, folks, what were you doing this weekend? Most interesting to me is how immensely popular $1 hot dogs and fireworks are here in Cleveland. Regardless, the Indians continued their unbelievable hot streak, taking all three games this weekend against Eric Wedge’s Seattle Mariners. The wrap around of the series takes place this afternoon where the Tribe goes for a four-game streak, but the series has already been clinched. It is the 10th consecutive series that the Indians have either won or split.
Think about that for a second: It was just three weeks ago that the Tribe got smoked in Kansas City in that first game of a Sunday doubleheader. Since then, they are 17-4, the best record in baseball. This weekend provided a ton of highlights, so let us look back at the weekend that was in Wahooland.
Three games, three solid starts. Ubaldo Jimenez took the mound Friday night in front of the biggest non-Opening day crowd of the season. The pressure was on him to deliver the goods again. Of course, it bears repeating that while Ubaldo hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency during his almost two years in Cleveland, his last four starts coming in looked like a guy who had figured something out. The danger with him is always that he is just one bad inning away from a total regression, but staying in a positive mind frame seems to be working well for him.
The Tribe offense struck first, giving Jimenez a two-run cushion to play with, and he pitched well through five, striking out a season high nine batters. But with his pitch count nearing 100 in the sixth and a rested bullpen, Manager Terry Francona yanked Ubaldo after he gave up a lead off single to Justin Smoak. With the tough lefty Raul Ibanez coming up, Tito went to Rich Hill. Hill hung a breaking pitch right over the plate, which Ibanez deposited in the seats to tie the game. The book on Ubaldo closed – five innings, two earned runs, seven hits, nine strikeouts, and two walks.
In Ubaldo’s five start resurgence, his ERA is 2.83 with 33 K’s in 28.2 innings pitched.
“He should feel good about himself,” Francona said. “He’s backing up each start. He’s consistently throwing the ball — there’s life on everything. He should feel good about himself.”
Saturday’s starter was the ever improving Zach McAllister, the team’s ERA leader. He comes to the mound in every home start to the Mark Morrison 90′s hit “Return of the Mack,” and then pitches like an O.G. During the first inning of his start, the Mariners hit four rocket shots, luckily three of them were caught by left fielder Mike Aviles. I thought Z Mac would be in for a long day. But he settled into a groove and carried it for seven innings. Seattle was held in check by the Tribe’s right-hander to the tune of no runs on four hits.
It wasn’t until the eighth that they got to him, it was actually the light-hitting Brendan Ryan who did the damage. He ended McAllister’s day with a one-out, two-run homer that cut a 4-0 lead in half. He came off the mound to a well deserved standing ovation.
“He pitched to contact,” Francona said. “He pitched very well, and he’s been that pitcher for us. For a young kid, he’s very reliable, and he’s getting better, and it’s exciting.
Unfortunately, McAllister didn’t get the win, because of Chris Perez’s blown save, but the team still came through with the win. McAllister sports a 1.93 ERA in his last four starts.
The Zach Attack’s performance was overshadowed Sunday by the ace of the staff, Justin Masterson. He went through a little bit of a lull in mid to late April, but the man they call The Big Nasty has seemed to have located his groove again. The Mariners never seemed to have a chance. When Masterson is dealing like he was yesterday, he is awfully tough to beat. Seattle never mounted any sort of real threat against him. In his seven innings of work, he blanked them on just three hits with a season-high 11 strikeouts. In a word, Masterson was filthy.
“He came out firing,” Francona said. “He not only was firing, he was pitching. He worked both sides of the plate with the four-seamer, two-seamer. He threw the breaking ball. He was up, down, in, out.”
Masterson is currently in the midst of a 19-inning scoreless streak and has won his last three starts. Here’s a great stat courtesy of our numbers guru Jacob Rosen:
Indians starters in first 21 games: 5-13 record, 5.72 ERA, 1.7 K/BB.
Indians starters in next 21 games: 13-4 record, 2.98 ERA, 3.1 K/BB.
Said Tito about his ace: “His stuff is dominant. He’s been consistent, but consistent at a level with his velocity, breaking ball, ability to hold runners. He’s just done everything.”
If Justin keeps this up, he will be right there in the end for the AL Cy Young Award.
And speaking of Cy Young award winning pitchers…The Indians for some odd reason seem to do their best work against them. Can you ever remember a team having to face this many former Cy Young winners this early in a season? The next one on their hit list was Felix Hernandez, whom Masterson squared off with Sunday. The Wahoo offense battered him into submission. This is King Felix we are talking about, one of the best arms in the game.
It just didn’t matter to the Indians. Thanks to the speed and hustle of Michael Bourn, they got to Hernandez right from the jump.
Bourn singled up the middle to lead off the bottom of the first and ran hard all the way. So hard that he rounded first and turned a single into a hustle double. He would score an out later on an RBI single from Michael Brantley, who had Felix’s number on this day. The Seattle defense didn’t help Hernandez either. Right-fielder Michael Morse thought it was a great idea to try and throw out Bourn on a single to right. Not only was his throw not close, but he completely missed the cut-0ff man, easily allowing Brantley to move into scoring position. The next batter, Nick Swisher, hit a ground ball right to Smoak at first, which he proceeded to “Ole,” Roger Dorn style, for an error. Brantley scored with ease.
An inning later, Bourn’s speed again started a rally with a two-out infield single. Jason Kipnis followed with a single. Then Brantley did in King Felix again with a two-out, three-run jack to center. It was 5-0 in a blink.
“I think he was trying to throw a front-door sinker, and he kind of left it over the middle,” Brantley said. “He didn’t get it all the way in. I put a good swing on it, and I was lucky enough for it to go out of the park.”
The Tribe knocked Hernandez out after five innings, six runs (five earned), on eight hits. He threw 107 pitches.
The 6-0 win was the Tribe’s seventh in eight tries against Cy Young winners this year – Hernandez, Cliff Lee, David Price, Justin Verlander, Bartolo Colon, Roy Halladay, and R.A. Dickey. The only one they failed to beat was Chicago’s Jake Peavy.
“Are we aware of it? In this locker room? Absolutely, we are,” Brantley said. “We talked about it this morning before we came in. But it’s more about our approach, making sure that we don’t do too much, and like I said before, we want to work the count and get him out of there in the fifth inning if we can. We did a great job today.”
On the walk off hits….. The signature of the mid-90′s Indians was the walk off wins at then Jacobs Field. We got our first two of 2013 this weekend, and Friday night’s was perhaps the most meaningful in a long, long, time. Mariners reliever Carter Capps blew through the Indians for an inning and two-thirds, yet inexplicably, the Grinder himself Eric Wedge yanked him for lefty Lucas Luetge. After recording one out, Luetge walked Drew Stubbs, who then stole second in a botched pickoff attempt. Bourn followed with an infield single. Bringing Jason Kipnis to the plate.
(SIDE NOTE – How about this Tribe speed? I’ve mentioned several infield hits/hustle plays in this piece already. I didn’t even bring up Mike Aviles scoring from second on a dribbler in front of home plate Sunday. The Indians haven’t had this kind of team speed in years.)
Kipnis was once dragging the Indians lineup down in the three hole and many thought moving him down in the order would help him settle down. This is why Terry Francona is the manager and we are not. Tito stuck with Kipnis and now he is getting the last laugh. In May, the Tribe’s second baseman is hitting .303/.365/.712/6 HR/20 RBIs. No hit he had in May was bigger than the walk off three-run jack against the left-handed Luetge in front of 34,000 strong.
“This was one of the more fun nights I’ve had on a baseball field,” Kipnis said.
“I was just as amped up as they (the fans) were rounding first base. You never want to put too much emphasis on different wins, but we knew we had a big crowd. To get a win in front of them and to get it like this in front of them, hopefully it brings some of them back, because we had a lot of fun tonight.”
A day later, the magic would repeat itself, this time in a completely different manner.
The Tribe led 4-2 heading into the ninth and with two outs, closer Chris Perez gave up back to back homers to Raul Ibanez and Smoak. But in the bottom of the ninth, they got their last licks.
Facing lefty Oliver Perez, Kipnis started things off with a single. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a double in the corner to left. Perez intentionally walked Nick Swisher to load the bases and set up the force at any base. This brought the Indians RBI leader Mark Reynolds to the dish. Mega Mark already had an RBI single and a home run to his credit. Perez fired and Reynolds hit a sharp ground ball toward short, who was drawn in. The shortstop Ryan fielded the ball and threw home from his backside. The throw looked like it would beat Kipnis home, but catcher Jesus Montero, who had an absolutely brutal weekend behind the plate, pulled his foot off the bag and Kipnis scored the game winning run. It was Reynolds’s third RBI of the game, and his 37th of the season.
“When it left the bat I was like, ‘Please get through,’” said Reynolds. “Then I was like, ‘Please make a bad throw.’ Then I was like ‘Please beat it out.’ It all worked out in the end.”
It certainly did.
The Indians remain ridiculously hot. The 17-4 stretch comes with solid all around baseball. They’ve gotten great starting pitching, solid bullpen work, consistent hitting from their every day lineup and their bench, and are having fun doing it all. The Tribe’s run differential during this 21-game span is +52, their best since September of 2005.
“We have a ton of confidence,” Brantley said. “But one of the main things is we’re keeping it real loose, and we’re enjoying it. When you’re enjoying baseball and you’re also winning, it’s fun. It’s fun to come into work every day. We pick up everybody in this locker room. [If] we continue to do that, it’s going to be a great season this year.”
That is so good to hear.
Up Next for the Indians, the series finale 12:05 tilt with the Mariners. It will feature lefty Scott Kazmir (2-2, 5.33 ERA) facing off against Hisashi Iwakuma (5-1, 1.84 ERA) who has been outstanding for Wedge’s club.
(photo via Jason Miller/Getty Images)