The Indians are making a habit of giving away games they shouldn’t lately. It’s becoming all too costly in the race for the AL Central title. Mental lapses happen from time to time, but they certainly can’t arrive in the ninth inning with the score tied. And I am not just talking about the players on the field.
On Tuesday morning, I took manager Terry Francona to task a bit regarding some questionable in game decisions in the late innings of a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Last night, he was at it again. Tito deserves all the credit in the world for the culture change surrounding this club. But if he is going to get the praise, he also needs to be questioned when things he does/doesn’t do affect the game negatively.
It shouldn’t have come to this, really. During the first two innings of the 5-4 loss, the Indians offense peppered their former teammate Esmil Rogers. Michael Bourn and Asdubal Cabrera opened the game with back to back singles against the newly converted Blue Jays starter. Neither would score as Jason Kipnis grounded into a double play and Nick Swisher struck out. The second inning started with back to back walks to Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana and an RBI single from Jason Giambi. A big inning was supposed to be in the cards with runners on the corners and nobody out, but it never happened. Lonnie Chisenhall flied out to shallow right, Drew Stubbs struck out, and Bourn grounded out.
It was that this time where I turned to my son and said “you can’t let this guy off the hook, this will come back to haunt us later.”
Sure enough, Rogers began blanking the Tribe from that point forward. He would pitch six innings, allowing just that lone run on four hits.
Tribe starter Justin Masterson was putting a runner on base each inning, mostly via the walk, but like Ubaldo Jimenez a night before, he kept working out of jams. Into the seventh inning, the Tribe was clinging to that 1-0 lead. With a tired bullpen in need of a rest, Tito sent out Masterson for another inning. He gave up a one out double to Adam Lind, but recovered to get Colby Rasmus on a ground out. When he walked Maicer Izturis – his fourth of the game – it was obvious Masterson had run out of gas. But Francona wanted him to get that last out. When he walked backup catcher Josh Thole to load the bases, Masterson had to be done, right?
I truly couldn’t believe Tito let his starter stay in the game to face Emilio Bonafacio. All he had warming in the pen was rookie Preston Guilmet, who had yet to throw a Major League pitch. He decided to stick with Masterson.
Naturally, Bonafacio, a .028 hitter, singled in two to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead.
“He didn’t command all night,” Francona said. “We had several walks. But his two-seamer, it was so violent that it was almost hard to keep it in the zone at times. That’s a good thing because they can’t hit it. But, there was a lot of base runners for a good amount of hits.”
If that was the case, then why leave him out there so long?
Guilmet came on to strike out Muninori Kawasaki to end the inning.
The offense still had three more chances to tie things. They did so in the bottom of the eighth. Facing All-Star lefty Brett Cecil, Bourn singled and stole second base. After Cabrera struck out, Kipnis grounded out, moving Bourn to third. Swisher then worked a walk, bringing the most clutch Indian of them all, Michael Brantley, to the plate. Dr. Smooth’s sharp liner got past shortstop Jose Reyes to tie the game. Santana followed with a single to left, but it was hit so hard, Swisher had to be held at third. With a lefty on the mound, Ryan Raburn was called to pinch hit for Giambi. Toronto manager John Gibbons countered with righty Neil Wagner, a former Tribe farmhand. Raburn would strike out.
With the scored tied at two in the ninth, Francona called for Rich Hill, one of his fresh arms. He recorded two outs, but walked Colby Rasmus. Pinch hitter J.P. Arencibia was brought out of the dugout for to replace Thole. Francona had two righties warming: Bryan Shaw, who faced four batters the night before, and Joe Smith, who had worked the previous three games. He called on Smitty to work his fourth straight game. Arencibia took Smith’s first pitch to left for a single. He previously was 0-4 with three K’s against Smith in his career. Smith clearly didn’t look right as he couldn’t find the zone and walked Bonafacio to load the bases. Shaw was ready, but Tito stuck with Smith, who shouldn’t have been pitching at all.
The sidewinder got ahead of Kawasaki 1-2, but left one over the middle of the plate which the Jays rookie took into left-center. It broke an 0-18 slump. Two runs would score, but Bourn misplayed the ball off his glove and hurried a throw towards second. The speedy Bonafacio ran hard the entire way and scored from first as Kipnis’s throw home was off line.
“I said I was good,” said Smith of his performance. “I felt all right, but I wasn’t good. That was far from that, that’s for sure.”
The blunder proved extremely costly.
Trailing 5-2 potentially instead of 4-2, the Tribe attempted the miracle comeback against Jays closer Casey Janssen. With two out, Bourn singled and advanced to second on catcher’s indifference. Cabrera singled him in to bring the trying run to the plate. Kipnis then walked with Cabrera on third, twice more advancing without a throw. Swisher stepped to the plate as the winning run. He hit a ground ball to Kawasaki at second. The game should have been over there, but he rushed the throw, which got past Lind at first base, allowing Cabrera to score. Kipnis made it to third. The next man up was the guy who the Tribe wanted in this spot, Brantley.
Gibbons had seen enough of Janssen and called on ace set up man Steve Delabar. Brantley got a first pitch fastball that he liked, but flew out to center to end the game.
This was a frustrating loss to say the least for the Indians, who fall to three and a half games back of the first place Tigers, who won last night 8-5 over the Chicago White Sox.
Today’s rubber match will feature the Major League Debut of the Indians right-hander Danny Salazar. The strikeout machine has been mostly a five inning pitcher in his starts for Columbus, so it should be interesting to see how he is handled should he do well against Toronto. The Jays counter with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (8-9, 4.77 ERA), who they beat on Opening Day in Toronto.
(photo via Scott Shaw/PD)