So, in the top of the ninth inning when Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis failed to communicate properly on a first-pitch pop-up off the bat of Anthony Rendon that would’ve ended the ninth for closer Vinnie Pestano, it was bound to bite them in the hind quarters. Two pitches later, Rendon took a Pestano heater and snuck it over the right field wall to give the Nationals a 7-6 lead and the eventual winning run.
That sequence, coupled with an eighth inning solo shot off the bat of pinch-hitter Chad Tracy against Joe Smith, erased what was a fascinating comeback from five runs down by the Tribe. This one is truly one of those you will look back upon at the end of the season and say, “What if?”
The Indians got buried in this one early with Scott Kazmir not being effective at all. Kazmir lasted just 2 2/3 innings, allowing runs in each inning and three solo homers, including back-to-back jacks in the first inning from Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth. There’s not much to say about Kazmir in this one, except he left his stuff out over the plate, and it went a long way multiple times. He only struck out two, usually a strength for him. For now, you have to hope that this was just a fluke bad start for Kazmir, because he certainly didn’t have it yesterday.
The real story of this one despite the loss was the Indians fighting back against a very good pitcher in Jordan Zimmermann after falling behind 5-0 in the third inning. It was a combination of solid early bullpen work to keep it tight and two-out hitting to make the comeback. Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen combined to shutout the Nats for 4 1/3 innings after Kazmir’s early departure. It just goes to show how deep and talented this bullpen is, even being shorthanded without Chris Perez at the moment. As for the bats, they came alive in the next three innings as Jason Kipnis delivered a two-out single to score Mike Aviles who had doubled. In the fourth, it was back-to-back homers by Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds that pulled the Tribe within two as the duo picked out a pair of fastballs that they liked. The Indians took the lead in the fifth as they started their rally once again with two down as singles by Aviles and Kipnis set up RBI hits by Swisher and Michael Brantley, who plugged the gap for a two-run double that gave the Tribe the lead at 6-5.
Then came the eighth inning. Smith had two out and two strikes on pinch-hitter Chad Tracy when he crushed one to dead center. Michael Bourn made a valiant effort in a leap at the wall, but it was gone for the team’s fourth solo homer on the night. In a startling trend, the back end of the bullpen had multiple failures in the same game. Pestano retired his first two batters as well before that first-pitch foul pop-up changed the course of the game. While neither player called the other off, Swisher was much closer to the ball at the outset, and to me, it should be his responsibility to call off Kipnis or say he doesn’t have it. Kipnis had a long way to run for it, but he would’ve made the catch if Swisher didn’t give the appearance that he had a beat on it. And I said to myself watching the game, “This is GUARANTEED to bite us in the [butt].” Surely, it did as Rendon took a 1-1 fastball over the wall in right. Vinnie’s velocity seemed down a little bit again with most of his fastballs hitting just 91 instead of 92-94 as they have been when he’s been going good this season. Not that Francona had much of a choice with Shaw, Cody Allen, who pitched the seventh, and Smith already used, but Tito went to his closer in the tie game in the 9th scenario that I so dread.
Today, the Tribe looks to get back to the .500 mark and win the series as Corey Kluber takes on Stephen Strasburg, fresh off the disabled list.