Raise your hand if you made it all the way 3:25 a.m. to see the finish of an epic battle between two teams who, to quote my high school basketball coach Max Vermilion, “couldn’t score in a whorehouse with a fistful of $20s?” I tried the best I could, but I succumbed to the sleep Gods just after 1 a.m. I was woken up by my daughter not once, but twice in the one and two-o’clock hours. Both times I looked at my Ipad to see if the Indians had won. Both times, the game was still going on. I give you friends of the feather who made it through until the end a standing ovation. You may be able to apply for some hazard pay as well.
I love this team about as much as anyone you will find, but the offense has been enough to put you to sleep, especially when they are in one of their cold streaks, as they are right now. Yet somehow, some way, they fight and keep fighting until their last out and make you proud.
Let us fast forward to the seventh inning. The Tribe trailed 1-0 and couldn’t do a thing against lefty C.J. Wilson. They barely threatened until Carlos Santana hit a solo homer just past the outstretched glove of Angels centerfielder Peter Bourjos. Santana’s blast was just the third Indians hit on the night. Rookie Danny Salazar had matched Wilson pitch for pitch during his five and a third innings of work but because the Tribe brass is keeping an eye on his workload, he was lifted for Cody Allen. Salazar was again terrific, striking out seven and giving up just one run on three hits. The run came on a leadoff solo homer from J.B. Shuck. Little did the Angels know it would be their only run of a 14-inning affair.
After leaving a small European country on base – thanks to eight Angels walks – it looked like the Indians would never score either. Both bullpens took turns putting up zeroes. The Indians didn’t get a hit from the seventh inning until 13th. With runners on base up until that point, they were 0-19. Literally you cannot make this stuff up. But how exactly did we get this far? It wasn’t easy or for the faint of heart.
As bad as the Indians offense was, the Angels were just as bad if not worse. Yes, they collected 12 hits and walked six times, but when you put 18 runners on and score one run – on a solo homer the first batter of the game – that is just a painful exercise in clutch futility. Check out these chances that were squandered by Mike Scioscia’s crew:
7th inning – Two on and two for Shuck. Terry Francona called for lefty Marc Rzepcynski who induced the inning-ending groundout.
8th inning – After a one out Jason Kipnis error, Francona went back to the pen for set up man Joe Smith. Mark Trumbo singled putting two on. However, Smitty and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera gave each other “that look,” and managed to pick Josh Hamilton off of second. “I saw Hamilton, he had a big lead off second, so I thought we had a chance to make the out. Joe made a good throw to second.”
It turned out to be a pivotal play in the game because the next batter, Kole Calhoun, singled to right which would have scored Hamilton. Smith recovered to K Chris Nelson to end the threat.
9th inning – Two more Angels singles went for naught as Smith got a superb defensive play by Cabrera, robbing Erick Aybar of a walkoff single, forcing extra innings.
10th inning – The biggest gag of them all for the home team. Facing Matt Albers, the Angels loaded the bases with nobody out and looked all but certain to hand the Tribe yet another demoralizing defeat. Nelson again K’d in a big spot – his fourth of the game – for a big first out. Francona then emerged from the dugout and called on lefty Rich Hill to face Hank Conger. Bringing in the wild Hill with the bases loaded is always a dicey proposition, but in this case he did the job. Conger certainly helped matters when he fouled off a squeeze-bunt attempt. The Angels catcher then lined out right to third baseman Mike Aviles who almost doubled off Hamilton at third. Knowing he just got away with one, Francona lifted Hill for Bryan Shaw to face the right-handed Grant Green. Shaw, pitching his fourth consecutive game, struck out Green to dodge a California sized-bullet. The Tribe was somehow still alive.
“We knew what we wanted to do in that inning, it was just a matter of executing and doing it,” said Francona. “We probably caught a break on the squeeze. Richie threw it up and eventually got him out. Then Shaw came in for the strikeout. We had a of guys do a lot of good things.”
12th inning – With two outs and closer Chris Perez on the mound, Calhoun singled. Inexplicably, Perez decided to walk Nelson who entered the at-bat 0-5 with four strikeouts. Conger had yet another chance to be the hero for Los Angeles and laced a shot to deep center. Michael Bourn raced to the fence to make a game-saving leaping grab, forcing more free baseball. “That ball just kept going,” said Bourn. “I’m not too familiar with the wall here so I didn’t want to get too close and jump and get hung up on the wall. When I’m like that, I jump and I’m glad I did. I hit the wall when I came down.”
The Indians best and really only chance between the Santana homer and this point in the game was in the 13th inning. With two outs Santana walked and Gomes hit the aforementioned single. Both were stranded on Cabrera’s fly to left. This is when the game turned over to the two long men – Joe Blanton for the Angels, Carlos Carrasco for the Tribe. That was going to prove to be a good thing.
Blanton entered the 14th inning with a record of 2-13, sporting an ERA over six. He had been lifted from an Angels rotation that could really use a veteran innings eater. To say he has been bad would be an understatement. After recording the first out, Lonnie Chisenhall, who pinch hit for Mike Aviles in the 12th, singled to center. This brought Drew Stubbs to the plate. He was 0-4 with a walk to this point and was just looking for a fastball to punch somewhere. He did so and more.
In his biggest hit as an Indian, Stubbs jacked a two-run homer to left, completely deflating the Anaheim faithful who stayed past midnight local time to see how this one played out. The 1-1 tie was finally broken. The Tribe dugout was jumping for joy. “I think everybody kind of exhaled a sigh of relief,” Stubbs said.
They would add an insurance run thanks to the legs of Michael Bourn and a throwing error by Blanton, but at that point, a three run deficit probably felt like 20 to the Angels. Carrasco pitched the final two innings for the win, his first since 2011. This was a huge win for the Tribe on many levels. Losing a game like this is an emotional crush job. More importantly, they were able to gain a game in both the division and Wild Card standings. Oakland, Baltimore, and Detroit all lost last night, moving the Tribe to within three and a half games of the wild card and five and a half games of the division.
“Every game from here on out is equally important,” Stubbs said. “We’re trying to make the playoffs. A game like that, a real gut-wrencher on the field, that would’ve been a tough one to lose.”
This thing is far from over, but this offense really has to get a move on immediately. In 14 innings, they managed just eight hits and only had five opportunities with runners in scoring position – they went 0-5. The good news is that they won. The Wahoos now go for a series sweep in Anaheim tonight before a day off on Thursday. The 4:05 p.m. local start (PST) time will be interesting with the shadows coming into effect, which means we could see another low scoring affair. Justin Masterson (13-9, 3.59 ERA) will face off with Jerome Williams (5-9, 4.90 ERA) in a rematch of the August 11th game in Cleveland in which the Tribe came back from a 5-0 deficit to beat the Angels 6-5.