Chris Perez just never wants to make it easy on us does he. Nursing a one run lead in the ninth inning of another uber important game – well, they all are at this point – CP put Tribe fans everywhere through the emotional wringer. Even manager Terry Francona said during the ninth he “had a stomach ache.”
We don’t know how Perez was feeling because he still isn’t talking to the media, which is probably a good thing. But for those of us inside of Progressive Field last night, it felt like another swift kick in the gut while it was happening. We shouldn’t have even gotten to this point.
The real story of this game wasn’t the shaky closer, it was the Tribe’s all of a sudden rotation stabilizer Ubaldo Jimenez. Yeah, I said it. The guy has become a rock. After two and a half years of frustration, the Indians have finally gotten what they traded for. In dire need of a quality deep start, the Wahoos turned to Jimenez and he responded like he has done so often since the All-star break. For seven innings, the Royals had nothing for the big U. His power stuff was working, hitting 96 with his fastball and command his breaking pitches. He would exit the game allowing one unearned run while scattering seven hits. More impressively, the former walk machine didn’t offer a single free pass while striking out 10. It was the third time in his last four starts that Ubaldo has had 10 K’s.
The whole comeback story is just incredible to me.
Jimenez now has nine straight starts where he has allowed three or fewer earned runs. Eight of those nine have been two runs or less and in his last two starts, in the most crucial time of the year, Ubaldo hasn’t allowed an earned run in 13 innings. His season ERA sits at 3.62, a whopping 1.94 since the break.
“I’m getting ahead, I’m staying ahead and I’m getting people out,” said Jimenez. “Right now it’s fun the way we’re playing together. Every day you come to the stadium, you know it’s a big game.”
The Tribe offense staked him to a 4-1 lead thanks to the long ball. The much maligned Asdrubal Cabrera got the Indians on the board with a solo shot in the second off of Kansas City’s Ervin Santana, who has dominated the Indians in his two starts this season. They would add a second run in the third behind the wheels of rookie Jose Ramirez. Making his first Major League start at third base, Ramirez led off the frame with his first career hit. He was so excited that he overran first thinking double. He managed to scamper back to first, but over-slid the bad. Luckily first baseman Eric Hosmer never attempted a tag. Drew Stubbs then hit a 3-2 ground ball to third with Ramirez on the move. Stubbs was erased, but Ramirez attempted to get to third. Hosmer’s throw was wild, allowing the speedster to dash home. It was almost as if Ramirez ran a marathon on the base paths in the third.
“He was all over the ballpark tonight,” said Francona of Ramirez. “He played with pure passion and joy. He helped us. That second run was huge and he scored on a grounder to third. It gave everybody a spark.”
Yan Gomes, who just keeps on hitting, put the Tribe up 3-0 with a solo blast of his own the opposite way. It was the Yanimal’s 10th on the season. He also gunned down two of three Royals attempting stolen bases. Gomes would have been perfect, but Cabrera dropped a throw on Alex Gordon’s steal in the third.
Fellow catcher, now mostly the DH, Carlos Santana would hit the Tribe’s third solo homer off the foul pole in right to start the bottom of the seventh. The play was initially ruled foul, but was overturned by instant replay.
The final six outs should have been on cruise control, but the Indians bullpen made this a maalox masher.
Cody Allen came on to pitch the eighth and wasn’t fooling anyone. Alcedes Escobar nearly missed a home run and settled for a double high off the big wall in left. Gordon then finished the job with a 394 foot blast to right that got out in a hurry. In a blink, this became a game. Allen recovered to strike out Emilio Bonafacio, but Francona took no chances, calling for lefty Marc Rzepsynski to face the lefty Hosmer. The southpaw did the job he was traded for to do, retiring Hosmer on an easy grounder to second. Francona then replaced Rzepcysnki with Joe Smith to face DH Billy Butler. Working for the third time in four days, Smitty got Butler on a comebacker, setting the stage for the ninth.
It was Pure Rage time and he almost drove Tribe fans into a pure rage. Salvador Perez sent a slow grounder towards the hole between short and third and it got through for a single. He would be lifted for pinch runner Chris Getz. CP then compounded things by walking Mike Moustakas. In an obvious bunt situation, KC manager Ned Yost sent up pinch hitter David Lough, who did his job, moving both runners into scoring position with one out. Then for some odd reason, when the last thing you need is a strikeout, Yost pinch hit Carlos Pena for Jarrod Dyson, who had two hits in the game. Pena is essentially a left-handed Mark Reynolds. With first base open, you pitch to him. CP recovered to do exactly what the Tribe needed, striking out Pena for the big second out.
Yost went to his bench a third straight time, calling on George Kotarras, who had hit a grand slam against the Indians earlier in the season in Kansas City. He fell behind in the count 0-2, worked the count full, fouled off four pitches, and eventually walked. It was a great battle that Kotarras won. The bases were now loaded for Gordon, who had homered his last time up. Perez buckled down and got him to fly out to shallow center to give the Tribe a 4-3 victory.
Never a dull moment with this bullpen and this closer, right? Hey, look at the bright side. Perez was brought on to get three outs without allowing a run. That is exactly what he did.
“We just try to show up and be one run better than the other team,” said Francona. “Tonight I felt we were 1/10 of a run better. I had a stomach ache in the ninth inning. That’s about a nail-biting as you can get.”
The Baltimore Orioles beat the New York Yankees 4-2, pushing the Yanks a game and a half back of both the Tribe and the Orioles. Tampa Bay did not play, so both teams gained a half game on the Rays. The Detroit Tigers lost to the Chicago White Sox, leaving the Indians faint hope of winning the AL Central still alive. They sit a game and a half back of the Wild Card and four and a half games back of the division lead.
Tonight it is Zach McAllister’s (7-8, 3.97 ERA) turn to come up big. He will face off with former Tribe first round pick Jeremy Guthrie (13-10, 4.19 ERA)