April 23, 2014

Rays 4 Indians 0: Missed opportunities send Indians home for the winter

Kipnis and BrantleyI was downtown around 5:30. Walking around 4th street, people filled the streets, rocking their red. The civic pride that we Clevelanders hold so dear was on full display. It was like a scene out of Major League when everyone in and around the city was walking past each other, holding up their #1 finger and saying “Go Tribe.” The buzz downtown was something special. We all wanted that feeling to continue. Nobody wanted it to end.

That is what makes last night’s 4-0, season-ending loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the win-or-go-home Wild Card game extra painful. Everyone who is a Cleveland fan knows – opportunities like this one don’t come around every year. So when they do, you have to make the most of them.

43,579 people came out loud and strong to support this team. You could see the amazement in the players faces as they stepped out of the dugout for their first at-bats. Many, including Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher, looked around as to soak it all in. One guy who didn’t have that look was Danny Salazar. The Tribe’s starter came out and retired the Rays 1-2-3 in the first, striking out the last two. Unfortunately the crowd was at its peak after that top of the first. Tampa’s Alex Cobb did his best to take the air out of the building, mixing and matching his fastball with wicked off speed stuff. The clubs traded zeroes until Delmon Young, who has a history of hitting against the Tribe, hit Salazar’s first pitch in the third deep over the wall  in left field to put the Rays on top.

I had said all day, the key to this game was getting ahead early and keeping the crowd hyped and into the game the way the Pirates had done a night before. But Joe Maddon’s group had a plan and it worked.

The Rays were patient and were sitting on Salazar’s fast ball. The 1-0 deficit was not that big of a deal, but in the fourth, they would hand Salazar what would turn out to be the death blow. With two outs and two on, Desmond Jennings stepped to the plate. Normally the Rays leadoff man, the sore-legged Jennings was moved down in the order to sixth. The big spot found him and he laced a double past the diving Lonnie Chisenhall at third, scoring two Rays. With the way Cobb was dealing, a three run lead felt like 10. The Tribe’s offense certainly did its part to help Cobb.

They wouldn’t say so after the game, but it was obvious that some guys were pressing and trying to do too much. The Indians had several chances to get on the board against Cobb, but time after time, they couldn’t come through with not just the big hit, but even the little things like moving runners of hitting a sacrifice fly.

Ryan Raburn was left stranded at second after a two-out double by Asdrubal Cabrera, who lined out to end the inning in the second. Chisenhall never moved after a one out single in the third. The fourth inning though was the one that will stick in all of our collective craws for a long time.

With one out, Carlos Santana doubled to the corner in right. Michael Brantley, who has been so clutch all year, sent a grounder back up the middle that looked like it was going to get through, but somehow Ben Zobrist dove and blocked the ball from getting to the outfield. Brantley reached on an infield single, but Zobrist saved a run. Raburn would walk to load the bases for Cabrera. I hated to think this way, but I have watched almost every inning this team has played. I just knew what was coming next and sure enough, it did. Cabrera jumped ahead in the count and didn’t wait for a strike, swinging at a pitch off the plate and grounding into an absolutely killer 3-6-1 double play.

So while the Rays took care of their few chances with runners on base, the Tribe was squandering them. But it didn’t stop in the fourth.

An inning later, Yan Gomes doubled in front of a Lonnie Chisenhall single. Once again the Indians were in business with two on and nobody out. Michael Bourn was next. All the Indians needed was a ground ball to the right side or a fly ball. Bourn did neither, striking out swinging. All night long Cobb baited him with his curve ball and Bourn could not lay off of it. Swisher, who seems averse to hitting against the Rays1, also could have delivered a sac fly, but instead grounded the ball right to Loney who stepped on first for the second out. Gomes scampered back to third. The last chance was Kipnis, who was ahead in the count 3-1,then swung at ball four, grounding out to second to end the inning.

How many more chances like the last two were the Indians going to get? The worst part about it was this crowd was BEGGING to explode.

The last big one came in the seventh. With one out, Gomes and Chisenhall both singled. The bottom of the order continued to do their job, but could the top do theirs and drive in some runs? Nope. Bourn again failed, flying out to center field. Maddon then pulled Cobb for his best right-handed set up man, Joel Peralta to face Swisher. Swish swung as hard as you will ever see at the first two pitches, trying to tie the game with one swing. He nearly screwed himself into the ground at the third pitch he saw, leaving two more Indians on base.

It was as close as the Indians would get as Peralta, Jake McGee, and Fernando Rodney closed out a 4-0 shutout as the Rays advanced to the AL Division Series in Boston.

It was fun while it lasted, but three hours and 40 minutes just wasn’t nearly long enough. While I know this was a season where the Indians exceeded expectations and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in six years, I can’t help but have that sinking feeling that a golden opportunity was wasted last night. The Tribe had recaptured the city, albeit briefly, and another week plus of Wahoo talk would have been huge for the city and for the organization. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be as the bats went silent at the worst possible time. The top of the order – Bourn, Swisher, and Kipnis – along with Cabrera were a combined 0-16.

“Salazar did what he had to do,” said Bourn. “This is on the offense. Not on the offense, really, we hit, but we didn’t hit with runners in scoring position. That cost us tonight.”

Make no mistake, this team will be back.

“I just told them that, as much as it’ll sting tonight — and it will, it hurts — that once we get past that, for however long that takes, I want them to remember how much [for] me and the staff, it was an honor to go through the season with them, and [remember] how much we care about them,” Francona said. “That’s what I’ll remember more than anything.”

 (photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

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Footnotes:

  1. did I really see he was 2/53 against them? []

  • Garry_Owen

    I like Hockey. It’s cool; but the only bears I’ll be rooting for are the Hershey Bears.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Well ya can’t say I didn’t try man talk about trying to lead a horse to water! I guess I’ll just leave you to your misery and hope the football team can help out. In the meantime I’ll just enjoy some serious Boston sports overload this weekend. Hang in there champ!

  • gct

    It was exciting to have a rooting interest in postseason baseball again. I forgot how stressful and amazing it is. I feel supremely disappointed, especially because it seemed like we were fairly good at manufacturing runs this year. Leaving all those guys in scoring position was deflating, and yes it was obvious that guys were pressing.

    That said, I’m still primarily grateful for this season. No one expected this, and if the old “Happiness = Reality – Expectations” bit is correct, then that explains perfectly why I still feel very happy with the 2013 Tribe.

  • FearTheRoo

    Last Sunday was a great day for Cleveland sports. Yesterday and Today have the potential to be very painful…

  • woofersus

    It always sucks to lose a big game, but the reality is I think the Rays were the better team and I can’t feel bad about this season. Even with some down years from key guys this team overachieved and made for a fun summer. Even better, they got better than expected production from some younger guys who will be here for a while. It makes me feel good that a lot of talent is coming back next year, and I think we’re in a better place than 2007 in terms of timing and age. I’d be more disappointed if I thought we had a world series caliber team and choked (like in 2007)

  • Harv 21

    and what was tres cool in the game 80 years ago was the pitcher blanked them on a now-illegal castor-oiled eephus pitch while his teammates on the bench hurled knives and broken bottles. Last night, the problem was that the crowd was just a tad too needy.

  • Harv 21

    “If anything, this team is due for a regression to the mean next year.
    In a way, it was poetic that the same team that overachieved with
    timely hitting and good fortune throughout the year was shut down in a
    game where they managed to record 9 hits with no runs.”

    Sense the same thing. They have a small core of promising major leaguers. They’ll need more to do this again, including legit good players who aren’t afraid of the moment. Carlos appears to be one of those guys, Yan might be, Brantley stayed calm. I sure expected Kipnis to step up as a leader. Even if he does, playoff baseball requires good players unafraid of the moment and they need more.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    They need a bona fide power hitter period. This offense has to work entirely to hard in order to produce. If they had a guy who with one swing could go deep it would alleviate a lot of the pressure IMO.

  • Jason Hurley

    /john mcclane’d

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • Pomp62

    The worst part of this to me is that the win went to ANOTHER Florida team where their residents couldn’t give two hoots about sports. They don’t deserve half the wins their teams bring them. Why can’t we have nice things?! Lol. Seriously though, I think I would rather have lost to the Yankees or team that had more then 15 real fans.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Salazar is a thrower still Cobb is a pitcher. I like Salazar’s future however but clearly he has more work to do. His demeanor will be his best asset. If he can master some off speed stuff to go with that amazing fastball it’ll be Salazar and not Bauer who heads this rotation sooner then later.

  • Harv 21

    But power hitters don’t always come through in playoff games. A Longoria homer didn’t beat us. My issue was this: at any given time there are maybe 3-4 major league hitters who can hit a homer when they’re actually trying to do that. Others, like a few on our team, get homers when they try to drive the ball. Last night we had our good hitters – Swish for sure, Kipnis maybe – trying home run swings when a single would have changed everything. Bourn was cray-cray anxious from the jump. They didn’t lose last night for lack of power. They lost because the guys they counted on couldn’t deal with the moment, and Tampa’s guys could.

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo

    A newborn Pirate who will inevitably be waving a terrible towel by the time he can crawl? Put me down as not loving a newborn Pirate.

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    Offseason: Indians sign Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman to minor league deals.

  • DJ

    Good season for the Indians. I definitely think they over-achieved, though. They feasted on the bad teams and struggled mightily against the good ones, and TB is clearly better than the Tribe right now. It just sucks that they couldn’t even score.
    No shame in losing last night, but this season’s success doesn’t necessarily mean they will win 90+ next year. Look at Washington this year: They had a tremendous 2012, brought nearly everyone back, and regressed pretty badly. I think, unless they find a viable solution at SS until Lindor is ready, and one-two consistent hitters in the middle of the lineup, they could easily regress back to being a borderline .500 team next year. (I’m ok with Gomes as the everyday catcher and moving Santana to 1B.) The pitching is coming along, and they do have Jiminez for one more year on a mutual option; what are the odds he goes back to bad Ubaldo?
    We’ll see what the front office does to improve the team over the offseason, but there are holes that have to be filled (and horrible contracts to trade/dump cough cough Cabrera/Perez), and ownership has to deliver. Otherwise, the momentum of a solid year could be wasted.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m talking overall not just last night but you reminded me of another shortcoming: that one true superstar. This team doesn’t have it anywhere. The Rays have two: Longoria and Price.

    As for a power hitter I was speaking in general terms as an overall issue throughout the season not specifically last night. You saw what Young’s HR did for TB it didn’t hurt. As for Swisher he’s a complimentary player at best always has been and always will. I like Kipnis I just don’t know if he’ll be able to go one more level. Bourn let me down but it happens. He may have wanted it just to much I don’t know.

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    Very well put. There was so much ebb and flow with this team because they don’t have any consistent 300 hitters. If you don’t have power you’d better at least have average. Without it you’re just a bad start or defensive lapse away from a loss each night.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Ugh but realistically that would seem to be their MO huh? I don’t know who all will be out there as FA but a very small part of me would love to see them take a shot at Nelson Cruz. Maybe his market will be smaller coming off his PED suspension I don’t know. I’d try to move Asdrubal and use his $10M next year towards Cruz or a real power threat.

  • DJ

    On that note, like every baseball and basketball season, once the Indians and Cavaliers are out, I’m done with MLB and the NBA. I have no interest in watching other MLB/NBA teams play in the postseason; just my teams.
    See you in March, baseball.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    What if the terrible towel was a diaper, better? ;-)

  • REEPJP

    I know most of the crowd seemed to be pretty jazzed up, but I was disappointed with my seating neighbors as well. I was standing at my seat in the top of the first inning, yelling my loudest. After the first out was recorded most of my section (178) sat down. I continued to stand and I’m not even kidding the people behind me started saying “c’mon guys, you can’t stand the whole game” immediately. I went on a mini rant and tried encouraging everyone in the section to stand back up but only got 50 blank stares looking right back at me. I hadn’t even finished my first beer of the evening but this infuriated me. Needless to say I was relegated to standing with 2 strikes and 2 outs the rest of the night in order to avoid confrontation. I guess next time I’ll try to get seats at the back of a section.

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    I wanted to stand the entire time as well but my little sliver of section 103 was the ONLY group that decided to sit down on a regular basis. I like to think im a pretty courteous guy; so considering I’m 6’4 I had to follow suit or the people behind me weren’t seeing anything. Such a bummer.

    On a side note, was there any chippy-ness in your section? There were like two fights in the section next to us and more than a few drunk idiots yapping back and forth at each other when things started going south. What the hell is that about? I don’t get why people would go to such a crazy fun and positive event and pull that garbage. It furthers my theory of the ‘party time’ epidemic….as in…our sporting events aren’t something to be taken seriously, they’re an excuse to drink too much and act a fool.

  • mgbode

    exactly. they have Pittsburgh across their chest and are wearing yellow and black. I cannot cheer for them.

  • mgbode

    the Braves FO is among the best in baseball. they continually keep a payroll under $100mil but consistently compete. I have respect for the type of team I hope the Indians can someday become.

  • Hopwin

    You sound like a Steelers fan lol

  • Garry_Owen

    Yippeekayay.

  • Harv 21

    i agree about stars. If Kipnis plateaus as a borderline all-star that’s great but we’ll need more than good vets like Bourn and Swish to compete consistently. We still have limited idea of what Gomes is – the catching skills are here to stay but his reaction to next year’s pitching adjustments will be crucial. Last night Santana looked to me like a stone-cold hitting stud like Vic Martinez. But those guys don’t have their swings go south for weeks with pull-happiness as Carlos still does. Maybe next year, without catching, that star will be born.

  • mgbode

    Did it bother anyone else that Cleveland fans were waving towels????

    I actually turned off the TV and turned on Hamilton just so I didn’t have to watch Cleveland fans wave those things around.

  • mgbode

    ouch. now, that hurts.

    counter: a Steeler fan would say that they ARE the gold standard (and that their color is actually gold not yellow) and that everyone should genuflect in their direction.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Nope because Texas fans did it too. Get over the Pittsburgh affliction already.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It’ll be interesting to see what the FO does clearly much work lies ahead not only for additions but players who are headed into their final years (Cabrera, Perez) and players who they need to figure out if and how to bring back (Ubaldo, Kazmir). What could go wrong?

  • Jaker

    Beats the crap out of 90 losses. So many things this season were special. But also some things to be negative about. Today is not the best day to vent these feelings. All i can say today is that they were a good team, and that doesn’t happen a lot around here.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure you’re going to see much better in this park and environment. Offense is way down, especially in Progressive. I don’t think you can count on some 30 HR guy coming in. Guys like Swisher, Santana, Kipnis will have to provide 20 each, and you have to build around that.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Could very well be I may be looking for a magic bullet in one specific kind of power hitter but considering the Indians have holes in RF and 3B it would seem to be a perfect fit. Monetarily it’ll be tough I realize that but nobody thought they would do what they did last winter either. I’m not saying repeat that but still I’d like to see another step forward by the front office. If anything at least it looks like they tried. I’ve floated a few ideas: trading/moving Cabrera and Perez and using some of that $$$ elsewhere. A redistribution of wealth if you will I don’t know. It gets complicated with guys like Ubaldo and Kazmir not to mention Masterson but that’s the life of a front office.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Definitely more reasons to be optimistic then negative without a doubt. It sucks the way they lost heck losing period but they are headed in the right direction. Lets see if that continues this winter now. All you can do is hope.

  • tsm

    I agree that Cabrera was the main goat, but the most upsetting at bat was by Kipnis in the 5th. Two on 3-0 count and trailing by 3…..one of our best hitters should have the green light and have decided to look for a fastball down the middle, which was exactly what he got. He took the pitch! This was not the pitch to take hoping for the walk. I don’t know if it was his decision or the manager’s, but in either case it was the turning point. The next pitch was the 12-6 curve that was low for ball 4 and he grounded to the pitcher. While our main guys were over aggressive at the plate most of the night, this situation called for the 3 run homer if he got the exact pitch he was looking for.