It was a big and much needed uplifting night for your Cleveland Indians. They woke up in third place in the AL Central, chasing three teams for the second AL Wild Card spot, including the red hot Kansas City Royals who jumped them in the standings the night before. Losers of seven of eight, the Wahoos desperately needed a win and some sort of big inning the offense could build on.
Getting the ball from Manager Terry Francona was Zach McAllister, who still hasn’t been nearly as crisp as he was earlier in the year before the finger injury sidelined him for six weeks. The big right-hander hadn’t won a game in nearly three months and the Tribe badly needed a quality start from him. The bullpen pitched five innings in Monday night’s loss and with a day coming Wednesday, the deeper McAllister could go, the better.
After retiring the Twins in order in the first, old favorite Josh Willingham touched up McAllister for a solo blast to lead off the second, putting Minnesota on top 1-0. It was Willingham’s fifth career at-bat against the Tribe’s starter, and he was now 5-5 with three homers. You had that “uh oh” feeling right then and there. It took you back to last year’s nightmare series in Minnesota where the Indians 5-29 skid began after they were swept by the Twins at Target Field. I remember it well, I was there on my annual summer weekend Tribe road trip. But then something good happened – McAllister went into shut down mode and didn’t let up.
“I felt like maybe I was a little bit more relaxed,” McAllister said. “But the big thing was command. I think, for me, it’s being able to keep my front shoulder closed with all my pitches. Today, I was able to have a better mix rather than just going with my fastball.”
Through the sixth inning, The Zach Attack kept on pounding the strike zone against the team that had previously had his number. In three starts against the Twins in 2012, he was 0-3 allowing eight earned runs in just nine innings. His only hiccup came in the sixth and it was another case of bad Tribe defense that hurt him. After striking out Brian Dozier to start the frame, Joe Mauer singled. Justin Morneau followed with a single to center which Michael Bourn completely misplayed. The ball went past his glove and Mauer came all the way around to score. Morneau would end up on third and it looked like the Twins were in for a big inning. However, McAllister calmly struck out both his nemesis Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia to stop the threat dead in its tracks.
He would depart with six innings of four hit, two run (one earned) ball, striking out seven and walking just one.
“He got to two strikes on, I think, 18 of the 23 hitters he faced,” Francona said. “So he’s pitching ahead in the count. As he got into the game, he started getting more comfortable with his offspeed. His cutter was a little bit bigger tonight. Not sure if that was by design, but it was a pretty effective pitch. He flipped enough breaking balls in there to make them respect that. He pitched really well.”
Meanwhile, the offense provided just enough to make Z Mac a winner. They answered Willingham’s second inning homer by loading the bases with nobody out in the third. Ryan Raburn walked, Lonnie Chisenhall reached on an error and Yan Gomes hit a sharp single to left. Raburn would score on Bourn’s fielder’s choice, but that was all they would get. Nick Swisher smoked a ball right at the first baseman Mauer who stepped on first for an inning-ending double play.
An inning later they would take the lead. Jason Kipnis led off with a single and advanced to second on Sam Deduno’s wild pitch. Asdrubal Cabrera, who continues to labor in the cleanup spot, failed to even move Kipnis to third with his weak grounder to short, but it didn’t matter because the most clutch Indian of them all, Michael Brantley, came through again. Dr. Smooth singled to center, easily scoring the speedy Kipnis to put the Tribe up 2-1. They added a third run on a Kipnis RBI groundout in the fifth.
The big blow came in the sixth, which gave McAllister and the bullpen breathing room. With one out, Carlos Santana was hit in the foot by a Deduno pitch. The two were the battery for the gold medal winning Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic championship game. Up stepped Ryan Raburn. The Tribe’s best bench bat delivered in a big spot for seemingly the one millionth time in 2013 as he took Deduno deep to left for a back-breaking two-run homer, his 14th on the season. The part-time player is just one homer away from the team leader Kipnis. Where would this team be without the 32-year old Detroit castoff? Consider he has more RBIs (40) than Swisher (37) in 95 less ABs. In addition to ranking second on the team in homers, he leads the team in OPS and slugging percentage, and is second only to Kipnis in on-base percentage.
A 5-2 lead was handed to the bullpen and they did exactly what they are supposed to do. Cody Allen looked dominant in the seventh, striking out two of the three batters he faced. The box score will tell you that Joe Smith pitched a 1-2-3 eighth as well, but two of the three outs were lined shots hit right at Swisher and Chisenhall. Hey, an out is an out I guess. Closer Chris Perez came on and danced around a two-out single to record his 19th save.
Raburn put it best: “This was a good team win.”
That it was. To make the night even better, every team the Indians are battling with for the Wild Card spots, Oakland, Baltimore, Texas, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City all lost and they were able to gain a game in the standings. They now sit three and a half games back with plenty of baseball still left to play.
They will try to build on the momentum of last night’s win and take the series from the Twins this afternoon before heading out to Oakland for a big weekend series. Carlos Carrasco (0-4, 7.75 ERA) will be making his first start since early July, giving a tired Scott Kazmir a few extras days of rest. He will be opposed by right-hander Kyle Gibson (2-3, 6.43) who has an ERA of 6.41 in his last four starts.