On their way to 92 wins and a Wild Card playoff berth a year ago, your Cleveland Indians used the Chicago White Sox as their personal punching bag. The Wahoos beat the White Sox 17 times in 19 games, including the final 14 in a row. During that stretch, they had three walkoff home runs, two by then 41-year old part time DH Jason Giambi. But it is a new year, and the new look White Sox were out to show the Tribe that they weren’t going to be pushovers this year.
The way things started off early, it looked as though more of the same was coming. Along with many other members of the Tribe elite, I openly questioned why Terry Francona has continued to use Asdrubal Cabrera as his leadoff man against left-handed pitching. The Tribe’s shortstop has looked putrid at the plate thus far, making many pine for 2015 when top prospect Francisco Lindor will assuredly take over. Naturally, Cabrera led off the game with a double high off the wall in left. After a Nick Swisher walk, Jason Kipnis continued his torrid hitting in his home city with a single to left. The ball took an awkward hop and bounced off of the hand of left fielder Alejandro De Aza, allowing Cabrera to score. A second run would come home on Ryan Raburn’s sac fly.
Cabrera would silence the doubters further with a solo homer to lead off the third against lefty John Danks, who entered the game 4-9 with a 5.09 ERA in 103 lifetime innings against the Indians.
This brings us to the real story of the night, the man who opposed Danks, Tribe right-hander Danny Salazar. We all know Danny throws extremely hard and has the kind of stuff we haven’t seen here since a young CC Sabathia toiled here. But we cannot forget he is still learning how to pitch at the Major League level. After showing so much promise during his 10 starts a year ago, there were high expectations for him coming into his first full season in the bigs.
Danny started the game by striking out the side. The fourth batter he faced, stud rookie Jose Abreu, took a Salazar pitch deep to center – 425 feet to be exact – to put the Sox on the board. However, Danny came back to strike out the next three. That’s when the weirdness began. With a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the third, Alexi Ramirez touched Salazar up for a leadoff homer, which was followed by back to back singles from backup catcher Adrian Nieto and Adam Eaton. Nieto scored on Eaton’s single after a Salazar wild pitch. Eaton also tried to get to second on his RBI hit, but was thrown out. Salazar then walked Marcus Semien. He looked rattled, but came back to strike out both Conner Gillispie and Abreu.
The score was tied at three in the fourth when the Sox struck again. Salazar K’d Adam Dunn to open the frame, but then ran back into trouble. Dayan Viciedo singled and De Aza walked on a 3-2 pitch. Viciedo was running on the play and Yan Gomes’s throw sailed past Cabrera at short, giving Viciedo another base. It wouldn’t matter as both scored on Ramirez’s double. The last batter Salazar would face, Nieto, struck out. Out came Francona to lift the kid for lefty Josh Outman who got Eaton on a ground ball which closed the book on Salazar’s historic evening.
For the first time in modern day baseball history (since 1900), a starting pitcher struck out 10 in less than four innings pitched. Danny gave up five runs on six hits and two walks in three and two-thirds. To make things even more strange, Salazar’s BABIP (batting average of balls in play) was an insane 1.000. In other words, every ball the Sox put in play was a hit. He recorded 11 outs; 10 by strikeout with the other coming on Eaton’s attempt to advance to second after a single.
“Well, it’s an interesting line score. He obviously had really good stuff to have that many strikeouts,” Francona said of his starter. “But because there were a lot of swing and miss, and he was also not hitting his spots all the time — he was up a lot on a (few) pitches. There were a lot of deep counts and they saw a lot of pitches. And then when he made a mistake, because they had seen so many pitches, they did some damage with him.”
Salazar was frustrated, but not deterred by this odd evening.
“I know what I have to work on,” Salazar said. “And even in my first start I was struggling with my delivery, and now I know on my offspeed pitches I was trying to be too aggressive with it. I just have to be a little bit less aggressive and keep them down.”
Abreu showed his power stroke again with a second solo shot, this one off of lefty Josh Outman in the fifth. The Cuban defector looks like he could be a thorn in the Tribe’s side for years to come. And this is the guy replacing the all-time Indians killer Paul Konerko. He added a third RBI on a fielder’s choice in the seventh. Abreu already has four homers and 14 RBIs on the young season.
The Tribe offense sputtered after the third, failing to get to Danks and two relievers the rest of the way. They never really gave themselves a chance to get back into the game, going out in order the final three innings of the game.
“Early in the game he (Danks) made a couple of mistakes and we made him pay,” said Francona. “Then he settled in and started adding and subtracting with his pitches and expanding the plate.”
Up next for the Tribe is another tough lefty, Sox ace Chris Sale. While the Indians had his number last year, Sale is one of the best southpaws in the game. He will square off with Carlos Carrasco, who has to be better than the last time we saw him, six days ao in Cleveland when he took a loss to the Minnesota Twins.
(photo via AP)