April 16, 2014

Indians 5, Royals 3: Wahoo! What a comeback!

Michael BournOf all of the wins this season – now 82 of the to be exact – last night’s come from behind, 5-3 heart-pounder in Kansas City may have been not only the biggest, but it was my personal favorite.

For the first five-plus innings, the offense looked like they had turned back the clock to August. The Royals needed a starter because left-hander Danny Duffy was scratched a night earlier with forearm tightness. GM Dayton Moore and Manager Ned Yost decided to call upon top pitching prospect Yordano Ventura. Consider him the Royals version of Danny Salazar. The kid throws triple digit fastballs accompanied by a nasty breaking pitch, but still, this was his Major League debut. Remember Salazar’s first game? He carried a no hitter into the sixth against the Texas Rangers and looked dominant.

The Indians notoriously have problems with starters they have never seen before. Remember earlier in the year when the Yankees Vidal Nuno beat them? Or what about being shutout on two hits by Twins rookie Andrew Albers in August? Ventura completely baffled the Indians through five innings, holding them scoreless on two hits. With two out in the sixth and Nick Swisher on first base, Carlos Santana singled, extending his hit streak to 12 games. Up next was Michael Brantley, the Tribe’s most clutch performer. Earlier in the game, Brantley had grounded into a double play, but he made good this time around. Dr. Smooth singled to right scoring Swisher and chasing the kid Ventura from the game. Brantley is now hitting .355 with runners in scoring position. Everyone was impressed by Ventura.

“We knew he could dial it up,” said Michael Bourn. “That’s always the case when you’re facing somebody for the first time, but what are you going to do? You’ve got to try to hit against him. He’s going to throw the ball with good velocity, good curveball, nice changeup, he had some cut on his ball at times.”

“Amazing. Electric stuff, we knew that,” Alex Gordon said. “He threw the first four pitches for a ball and you’re kind of like, ‘Uh oh, how’s he going to react in this atmosphere in his first start?’ But he bounced back and did great for us. Couldn’t ask for more.”

Yost called on lefty Will Smith to turn Asdrubal Cabrera around to the right side, but he would walk to load the bases. Trailing 3-1, this was the Tribe’s big shot. With Ryan Raburn due up, Yost turned to right-hander Louis Coleman and his 0.35 ERA in 24 appearances. Raburn worked the count full before striking out.

At that point, it seemed like that was going to be it. Tribe fans and the team had to feel a little deflated, but there were still three more innings to play. If we have learned anything about this team this season, it is that just when you count them out, they keep fighting, scratching and clawing their way back. It would be no easy task against the AL’s best bullpen.

Tribe starter Corey Kluber did not have it in this one, but was hurt by his defense at times. Trailing 1-0 in the third, Cabrera’s dropped throw of a delayed steal attempt by Emilio Bonafacio would cost Kluber two runs. It would have been the second out. Bonafacio would score on a Salvador Perez sacrifice fly, which should have been the third out. Mike Moustakas would then double in Eric Hosmer with two outs to give the Royals a 3-0 lead.

Knowing the importance of this game, Tribe manager Terry Francona took no chances and gave Kluber a quick hook with two outs in the fifth with a man on and Moustakas, already 2-2 with two doubles coming up. Lefty Rich Hill came on to retire the Royals third baseman. It was the start of some clutch relief work by the Indians bullpen.

In the bottom of the sixth, Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepcynski came on to keep the Royals off the board. They set the stage for the Tribe’s comeback. Yost replaced Coleman with the power throwing but wild Kelvin Herrera for the seventh to hold down a 3-1 lead. After striking out Lonnie Chisenhall, he hit Yan Gomes with a breaking pitch. Bourn was next. Many, including Bourn himself, would tell you he has had a disappointing year, but he was about to make up for it. Coming into the at-bat, Bourn was 3-3 lifetime against Herrera. He would take a pitch deep to right and he just kept running all the way to third for an RBI triple. With the speedy Bourn 90 feet away with one out, the Indians HAD TO get him home to tie the game one way or another.

Nick Swisher got ahead of Herrera in the count 3-0 and had the green light all the way. He delivered a sacrifice fly to left which easily scored Bourn.

Rzepcynski stayed on in the seventh to face Hosmer and struck him out before being replaced by Cody Allen. Cody recorded the final two outs, sending the Tribe and Royals to the eighth tied at three.

I for one fully expected to see the Royals best set up man, Luke Hochevar, in the eighth inning of a tie game. This is the same guy who struck out all five Indians he faced in a game last week and K’d the side a night before. Instead, Yost went to failed starter Wade Davis and his 5.46 ERA. It defied all logic. Then again, Royals fans will tell you Yost’s decision making all season in key spots have been extremely head-scratching.

Santana got things started by working Davis for a walk. Pinch runner Drew Stubbs would move to second on Brantley’s ground ball to first, which Hosmer bobbled and couldn’t make a play to second on. Cabrera now had his turn to get one back for his defensive mistake earlier in the game. He sent a fly ball to deep left. The gold-glover Gordon backed up on the run and watched tip off his glove. Stubbs was flying around the bases, scoring easily to give the Tribe their first lead of the game.

“It was a ball I definitely needed to catch. I just made a play for it and it hit off my glove,” Gordon said. “I should’ve caught it. I’m not going to try to make an excuse. It would’ve turned the inning around, and unfortunately I didn’t make the play.”

When asked about going to Davis in the eighth, Yost said  “We feel we had the right match-ups, and we just didn’t get it done. There were (also) a number of plays that we normally make. The degree of difficulty on all of those plays was still very high and very tough, but we’ve got a very talented defense. Normally, we do make those plays.”

This to me has to be on Yost. Don’t believe me, here is what ESPN.com’s David Schoenfeld had to say:

Why take out Louis Coleman after he had escaped the jam in the sixth? Coleman has allowed one run in 25 innings with a 27-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Herrera has actually been the most inconsistent of Royals relievers, with seven losses and a 3.70 ERA entering the game. Coleman has been hot.

And then why go to Davis in the eighth? He had struggled all season in the rotation before the Royals finally sent him to the pen. Sure, he was great as a reliever with Tampa Bay last year, but he’d only pitched in four games in relief for Kansas City. Where was Luke Hochevar and his 1.64 ERA and .164 average allowed? He’d thrown 18 pitches on Monday and nine on Saturday — hardly reason to hold him back. Of course, Yost wouldn’t use closer Greg Holland and his 1-point something ERA in a tie game in the eighth. Why waste your closer in such a high-leverage situation? Asdrubal Cabrera doubled in the go-ahead on a fly ball over Alex Gordon‘s head in left, a play that Gordon appeared to be in good position to make but somehow didn’t make.

The Royals are in must-win mode in every game and Yost blew a lead while using his three best relievers for one batter.

Joe Smith pitched a scoreless eighth and once again the Indians responded with a big time insurance run. Finally facing Hochevar, Bourn led off the inning with a solo blast to right, stretching the lead to 5-3. Whatever Bourn has done leading up to this night, he earned every penny of his contract in his last two at-bats, an RBI triple and a home run.

“He (Bourn) turned that game around with a couple swings,” Francona said. “He makes us go.”

Then there was the business of getting the final three outs. It is always an adventure when Chris Perez takes the mound, but in a game that his team badly needed him to make quick work of their opponent, CP was firing bullets. After getting Bonafacio on a ground out, Perez froze Hosmer and Butler looking to close out the spectacular come from behind win.

There was a playoff feel at Kaufmann Stadium last night and the Tribe showed serious mettle coming back from the dead to take this one.

Said the hero Bourn: “Kansas City’s fans came out and supported their team. We’re just hoping for the same when we get back to Cleveland. We’ve only got one more homestand for the whole year, so we would like that. It’s our last week and a half. We just want somebody to be behind us to help push us to that playoff spot. When you play in that atmosphere, you like it. It gets your blood flowing. It felt like a playoff atmosphere — it did.”

A happy Francona was grinned from ear to ear after this one and called the game “one of the most gratifying wins I’ve ever been part of.”

Side note – watching last night’s game along with Twitter was one of the more interesting experiences I can remember this season. You knew it is September baseball with the highs and the lows of the fans. Through the first five innings and even after the Raburn K in the sixth, the world was coming to an end and “The Indians never show up and beat good teams when they need to.” By the end of the game, it was a Tribe love fest.

With the Texas win in Tampa last night, the Indians moved to a half game back of both Wild Card spots and assured themselves of leaving Kansas City at worst a half game back of the second Wild Card win or lose. A win tonight would put the Indians into one of the spots with 10 games to play against the three worst teams in the AL.

Francona will turn to rookie Danny Salazar (1-2, 2.66 ERA) to try and win the series in KC. He will again be on his pitch limit, somewhere between 75-80. The Royals will counter with soft tossing lefty Bruce Chen (7-3, 3.11 ERA) who hasn’t allowed an earned run against the Indians in 12 innings against them this season (one start).

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)