The Indians seemed to have cornered the market of demoralizing defeats. It seems like the month of August has been one long, grueling exercise in offensive futility, yet the Wahoos stay in almost every game and are rarely blown out in losses. That speaks to the quality of pitching they have been getting from both their starters and the bullpen. While the old adage is “good pitching beats good hitting,” you can’t win games unless you score runs. That is an obvious fact.
Last night’s 3-2 loss in Atlanta was just another in a long stretch of examples showing the Tribe’s small margin for error. Other than Sunday’s complete anomaly, where they committed four errors yet somehow pulled out a 3-1 victory against the sad sack Minnesota Twins, any small mistake the Indians make comes back to bite them. This one had two glaring instances.
The Tribe’s top dog Justin Masterson got the start and like Danny Salazar the night before, had just one bad inning – the second. Brian McCann led off the inning with a single, but quckly Masterson retired Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Andrelton Simmons then laced a double to left, but the slow-footed McCann had to be held at third. It looked like it wouldn’t be an issue for Masterson with opposing pitcher Paul Maholm coming up to bat. Except for the fact that Justin decided now was the time to lose his command as he walked the pitcher to load the bases. I bet you can’t guess what happened next?
Yep, Jordan Schafer, a thorn in the Tribe’s side all night, singled in McCann and Simmons to put the Braves on top 2-0. Walking Maholm with two on and two out is the kind of killer mistake you just cannot make, especially when your offense is colder than Minneapolis in January.
Throughout the game, the bats continued to do what they have done all month – leave runners on base. They put two on in the first on a Nick Swisher single and a Carlos Santana walk, but both were stranded when Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out. In the third, the first two Indians – Masterson and Michael Bourn – singled to start what was hoped to be a big inning. But Swisher grounded into a 1-6-3 double play which killed that threat.
Even after Mike Aviles’s solo homer in the fourth ended the Tribe’s scoring drought, they couldn’t capitalize after Michael Brantley singled, stole second, and Drew Stubbs walked. Masterson’s flair to right was caught by Schafer, ending the frame.
Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, Santana led off with a single but the next batter, Cabrera, grounded into a double play. Noticing a trend here?
This was not Cabrera’s night. Or month. Or year.
Despite all of these blown opportunities, Masterson kept the Indians in the game by holding down the Braves to just those two runs through six. In the seventh, the Tribe had another chance to tie the game when Brantley singled and moved to second on Stubbs’s groundout. With Masterson due up, manager Terry Francona went to his bench. He had plenty of options. If he decided to go to Jason Giambi or Lonnie Chisenhall, Braves skipper Freddy Gonzalez would have called for lefty Scott Downs who was warming. He had two right-handed bats to choose from. The .289 hitting Yan Gomes or Matt Carson, called up from Columbus earlier in the day to replace the injured Ryan Raburn.
Trailing by a run in the seventh with the tying run on second in a big game is not the time to use a 32-year old journeyman who was hitting .252 in AAA. The call was easy – use Gomes, move him to catcher, send Santana to first, Swisher to right, and have the new pitcher hit in the eighth spot replacing Stubbs. Instead, for some odd reason, Francona sent up Carson to face hard-throwing righty David Carpenter. Carson was completely overmatched, striking out on three pitches.
Put this one in the head-scratching decisions pile with Francona not walking Minnesota’s Joe Mauer with first base open in a tie game in the eighth, letting Joe Smith face him with lefty Rich Hill warming in the pen on July 19th’s 3-2 loss. I’m not saying Gomes would have gotten a hit there, but he certainly would have had a better chance than Carson.
The inning ended with Downs coming on to get Bourn on a fly ball to left.
The game did get interesting in the eighth as the Indians actually managed to scratch the tying run across. Of course the inning could have been bigger, but I guess you have to crawl before you can walk. Facing lefty Luis Avilan, Swisher and Kipnis hit back to back singles to get things started. Santana didn’t do his job and popped out to first. Cabrera then worked Avilan for a walk to load the bases. Aviles, the man who delivered the only scoring punch of the night for the Tribe, hit a slicing line drive to deep right which Schafer caught, but Swisher easily scored to tie the game. Kipnis also moved up a base to third.
That’s when Cabrera’s lack of focus once again reared its ugly head.
Brantley had a chance to put the Tribe ahead with a hit. On the first pitch, Cabrera took off for second and Brantley swung and missed. Inexplicably, Cabrera stopped running halfway to second, thinking Brantley had fouled the pitch off. He kept his head down and started walking back to first. Avilan realized it once he got the ball back from the catcher McCann and threw to second. Cabrera was dead to rights in a rundown. Rally dead. Inning over.
“I thought he fouled the ball off,” said Cabrera. “It was really bad for the team. It was my fault and that’s it.”
How many more mental mistakes can one player make in a season? Cabrera’s maddening play and $10 million salary for 2014 cannot be sitting well with the Tribe’s brass. As I said before, any window they had to get a haul for him has gone by the wayside with the way he has played in 2013.
This game was obviously not over and still tied, and we stayed that way into the bottom of the ninth. Joe Smith came back out after retiring two in the eighth. With one out, the speedy Schafer beat out an infield single and then stole second. Smitty recovered to get Justin Upton on a fly ball to center for the second out. With first base open, Francona wisely called for an intentional walk of all-star Freddie Freeman to face right-handed Chris Johnson. It was a better matchup for Smith and set up a force at any base. It was a good plan, except Johnson singled to left. Brantley made a good throw by Schafer beat it out for a Braves 3-2 walkoff win.
“Don’t let Joe Smith fool you, I’m the reason we lost this game,” said Masterson. “I had two out in the second out and Simmons in a good count. I hang a slider and he hits a double. I had the pitcher next and I walk him. Then Schafer gets a nice hit on the sinker away for those two runs. Without that it’s probably a 1-0 ballgame and a win for us.”
Then again Justin, if the bats could produce more, your team wouldn’t have been in this predicament in the first place.
This was another absolutely killer defeat in a game they easily could have won. Meanwhile, the A’s pounded the Tigers for a third straight game and the Indians now trail Oakland by four games for the second Wild Card spot. They are still five and a half games back of Detroit in the Central and no doubt will catch an angry team this weekend when they travel to Comerica Park.
“We’re sitting pretty good right now, as long as we start winning some games,” Smith said. “Tonight stinks. We needed a win. We needed it bad. So it hurts a little bit. We could’ve still got out of here with two out of three, which would’ve been great, especially heading into Detroit. I didn’t help us tonight. That hurts.”
There is still one game left in Atlanta that really has to be won. It is up to Ubaldo Jimenez (9-8, 3.95 ERA) to stop the bleeding. He will face off with Atlanta’s Kris Medlen (10-12, 3.74 ERA).
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)