Indians 11, Tigers 10: The sweep that came via…The Balk-Off?

Asdrubal CabreraJust when you think this team is out…They suck you right back in.

The 2013 Cleveland Indians were dubbed “team streak” at times. Nobody could be colder and then immediately rattle off seven in a row the way they did. Let us not forget that Wahoos had to win 10 straight to close out the season to make the playoffs and actually accomplished the feat. This year’s version is nowhere close, but the last six days have been somethin’ else.

“A few weeks ago, we really didn’t show a whole lot of fight,” David Murphy said. “The type of day that we had, nobody is going to say die. Nobody is going to throw in the towel. Nobody is going to throw away at-bats. Everybody is going to go up there and fight until it’s over.”

First, the Indians looked like a little league team while getting destroyed by Oakland to the tune of 30-6. With the Detroit Tigers coming to town and the whole balance of the team somewhat in shambles, the bottom seemed on the verge of falling out. But that is the thing about Terry Francona’s team, when they seem down, they rise out of nowhere. They took the first two games against their kryptonite (a left-handed starter in Drew Smily) and a former two-time Cy Young award winner (Justin Verlander), and looked for the sweep on a sunny afternoon at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

All they had to do was beat the best starter in the American League, the current Cy Young holder, Max Scherzer. Oh, and did I mention that before the Indians even took a shot at Scherzer they trailed 4-0 because Zach McAllister took another turn throwing batting practice? Yet some how, some way, your Cleveland Indians pulled off a stunning 11-10 win in 13 wild innings. The game had more subplots than a John Grisham novel.

“I don’t even know where to start with that game,” Murphy said. “I don’t really know if that was a baseball game, or a marathon combined with a circus. I love the way we battled.”

McAllister’s second straight horrific outing and fourth in his last five starts is a serious cause for concern. He couldn’t make it out of the third inning yet again and put his team in a real bind. With a bullpen soon to be taxed and Scherzer on the hill with a four run lead, the game seemed over before it started. That’s when the Indians surprised us all and immediately made it a game.

A second inning sacrifice fly from Murphy put the Tribe on the board after Tigers shortstop Danny Worth lost the first of two popups in the sun and gave the Indians an extra out to play with. The third was where they really went to work. With one out Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles spanked back to back doubles to make it 4-2. Then Worth lost the other pop fly in the sun, giving Bourn a single he didn’t deserve. Asdrubal Cabrera’s groundout moved the runners into scoring position with two out for Mr. Clutch himself, Michael Brantley. As we have seen so many times this year, Dr. Smooth delivered a two-out, two-run single to tie the game at four. On top of that, Brantley stole second which gave Murphy a chance to come through. Arguably the second most consistent player on the team, Murphy again stood tall with a double which easily scored Brantley. Nick Swisher then finished off the big inning with an RBI single of his own.

The Indians took two innings to erase that four run deficit against the Tigers ace and not only did they tie it, but they went out in front. It was as impressive of a mini-run has we have seen all year considering the competition.

“They were ultra-aggressive today, trying to come at me. And when I left pitches in the zone and when I fell behind, they did a great job of capitalizing on it,” Scherzer said. “There were pitches I left up that they hit. They also hit some good pitches as well.”

But as we would soon learn, this game was far from over.

Another Victor Martinez homer and a walk to J.D. Martinez chased McAllister just two batters into the third. Scott Atchison would come on to take over.

Chisenhall’s first homer of the season came against Scherzer and negated Victor’s shot. The game stayed that way until the fifth. I’ve very rarely been critical of Francona, but this season his strategy has not been the best. Strangely in the fifth he went to his best lefty Marc Rzepcyznski to face Miguel Cabrera, Victor, and J.D. Martinez, essentially three right-handed bats. He had righthander Carlos Carrasco warming the entire time. Rzep walked Miggy and was touched up for a double by the hitting machine, Vic the Stick. He came back to K the other Martinez, but Austin Jackson’s sac fly inched the Tigers closer at 7-6. With two out and Carrasco ready, he stuck with Rzepcyzynski and it backfired as Nick Castellanos smacked a ground-rule double that tied the game.

So Francona brought in his late inning lefty to face five straight right-handed hitters in the fifth? Didn’t seem to make any sense. Carrasco came in one batter too late. I will say this about Carlos, in a big spot, he gave the Indians two solid innings of work. He did walk two and give up a hit, but he kept the Tigers off the board. After 51 pitches, Francona pulled Carrasco with two out in the seventh after he walked backup catcher Bryan Holaday. His next move was to go to another righty, deposed closer John Axford.

This was Axford’s first real chance in a high leverage situation. The first batter he faced, Worth, was walked on four pitches. As usual, Axford came in and fell behind hitters, seemingly one after another. He managed to get out of the seventh thanks to a Rajai Davis ground out, but his fun was just beginning.

While Scherzer had continued on through seven innings despite giving up seven runs on 12 hits, the Indians were running out of pitchers. The shaky Axford came back out for the eighth and gave up a single to Ian Kinsler and a walk to Don Kelly, who had replaced Miggy Cabrera who had been ejected along with Tiger manager Brad Ausmus for arguing balls and strikes in the sixth. Kelly is clearly no Miggy, yet Axford walked him anyways. Victor was next, he of the three hits already. He sent a slow roller to Aviles at second who got a tad greedy and went to second for the force, but his throw was dropped by the shortstop Cabrera and dribbled away from him, allowing the lead run to score. J.D. Martinez’s single extended the Tiger lead to 9-7.

That would be all for Axford and should be all for him on the Major League roster. It is not too early to call his signing a bust. The guy falls behind hitters in every outing and flat out cannot be trusted. He does have minor league options remaining and with the Indians needing fresh arms, he should be the first guy demoted. It doesn’t matter what he is making, if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. It is time for Axford to go.

Joba Chamberlain came on to pitch a 1-2-3 eighth and with closer Joe Nathan coming on for the ninth, this one seemed all but over. But this one was just getting started. A one out single and stolen base by Brantley brought Murphy to the plate as the tying run. On this day, you knew anything was possible. It was almost a carbon copy of a day game last May when the Indians came back three different times to beat the Seattle Mariners on a walkoff homer from Yan Gomes. Instead of a walkoff homer, the Tribe got a game-tying blast from Murphy, the unsung hero of this short season.

On to extras we would go where the Tigers had a decided advantage. Atchison, Rzepcyzynski, Carrasco, Axford, Josh Outman, and Kyle Crockett had already been used. The rookie Crockett got the first two Tigers in the 10th, but was robbed of a K for the third out. He wound up walking J.D. Martinez and was replaced by the one guy Francona did not want to use, Bryan Shaw. The Tribe’s best set up man had worked the previous two games, including two innings the night before. This one however was all hands on deck. Shaw got Jackson to pop out to get out of the inning.

The bottom of the 10th had the makings of a Tribe walkoff winner, except the couldn’t close the deal. Facing lefty Ian Kroll, Chisenhall walked in front of an Aviles single with one out. With Lonnie at third, all they needed was a sac fly. It was Bourn’s chore and it looked like he had done the job, but Chisenhall hesitated coming down the line and was gunned down with ease by Davis in left.

With Cody Allen unavailable, Francona had no choice but to turn to Thursday’s scheduled starter, Josh Tomlin. JT pitched a scoreless 11th and 12th and once again the Indians got themselves into great shape to win the game with two on and nobody out against lefty Phil Coke. But that rally was foiled when pinch hitter Ryan Raburn swung at the first pitch and grounded into a double play.

The highs in this game were high, and the lows were low. Like the Alex Avila homer in the 13th inning for the Tigers. That was as low as it got in this one. All of that hard worked seemed like it would be going all for naught, but then again, Coke was coming out for a second inning. For comparison sake, this is like Axford coming out for a second inning.

Aviles reached on an infield single to start the last licks. Bourn laid down a perfect bunt down the third base line that Castellanos made an amazing play on, but Aviles was now in scoring position. Asdrubal was then drilled in the knee by a Coke pitch, putting the winning run on base. Of course the incomparable Brantley was next and guess what, he delivered the game tying RBI single. Just another four-hit, three-RBI game for Dr. Smooth. Murphy’s groundout moved both runners up and put Cabrera at third. Out went Coke and in came Al Albuquerque, Monday night’s loser. He immediately intentionally walked the pinch hitting Gomes to load the bases for the ex-Tiger Raburn. Then something happened that I for one had never seen before.

They say in baseball if you come to the park every day, you will see something new and here it was. Alburquerque actually balked with the bases loaded. That’s right, the Indians improbable win came via the balk-off. Nobody knew exactly what to do. All they knew was they had just swept the first place Tigers. They had no pitchers left, they don’t know who will start Thursday’s game in Baltimore and they badly need a fresh arm for the pen, but none of that mattered around 5 PM on Wednesday afternoon.

“This game is crazy,” Tigers closer Joe Nathan said. “These guys get swept and absolutely boatraced by Oakland before we get here. We’re playing as good as we’ve played all season before we get here. And who would’ve seen this happening? I don’t think anybody. But it’s a crazy game.”

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

 

  • Eric Marcus

    Miggy getting booted ended up playing a huge role with all the extras we played. It seem like nothing was going our way then everything was going our was (and that repeated about 4 times). Helluva game.

    And yes, please just get Axford and his creep ‘stache out of Cleveland.

  • mgbode

    Lonnie Baseball Lives

  • mgbode

    and thanks guys for your always fantastic coverage. I’m on the wrong side of the Atlantic this week and it has been great to be able to keep up to date on everything. I do think that I will have to watch this entire series on the plane home though. sounds fun.

  • boomhauertjs

    I think Aviles and Asdrubal could’ve turned that double play since Victor is the slowest runner in baseball. Oh well, got the W anyway.

  • Hopwin

    That game was a blast to be at! Too many Tiger’s fans in the crowd, but I’ll let Cleveland take their money.

  • Harv 21

    Honestly, I don’t get this team at all, and I’m not sure they do either. Score 6 total runs in 3 games v. Oakland, and then light up Verlander and Scherzer back to back. A few things:

    – Wonder long can David Murphy hang in and keep the boat afloat until Carlos and someone besides Brantley start raking. Tick, tock … Hope Kipnis can be Kipnis when he returns.

    – Raking won’t matter if McAllister and Masty don’t figure it out soon. Kluber can only be out there every 5 days, and cannot assume Bauer and Tomlin will carry the staff the rest of the way.

    – Brantley’s robotic approach to the game – the disciplined, repeatable swing taking the pitch wherever, the soundness of all fundamentals, even the early-career injury history – is reminding me of a poor man’s Paul Molitor. Baseball rewards the dispassion of a guy who’s figured it out. Might be my fav Indians Player to be Named Later of all time.

    – Wish Austin Carr was in the booth calling the balk. “What does pressure do…?”

  • nj0

    brag brag brag

  • Natedawg86

    Going to the game tonight! Hope there is some magic left! Who is pitching?!?!?

  • nj0

    I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong so I’m now saying: we should have kept Aaron Harang on the roster out of camp. I understand why we didn’t. And I also don’t think he would have had anywhere near the kind of success here that he had in ATL, but clearly he’s found a second wind (third? fifth?) this season. 2.36 FIP, lots of K, fewer walks.

    But more importantly, the old adage is still around for a reason: you can never have enough pitching. We haven’t even been hit by the injury bug and we’ve been through seven starters already, most of whom still have major question marks. Another arm would have been nice. And really, couldn’t we have found one more spot on the roster for him?

  • nj0

    Still TBD, as far as I can tell.

  • nj0

    Lonnie has all of 4 ABs against LHP this year. Which is fine by me. Seem to be working out.

  • Hopwin

    It was going to be Tomlin… now I guess it is Masterson’s turn again?

  • woofersus

    Axford should probably be out of chances at this point, at least in any situation where we either lead or trail by fewer than 4 runs, but I’m having flashbacks of Rich Hill jogging out to the mound over and over last year even after all hope of him being a good pitcher for the year had long since vanished. (and I know we didn’t have many other LHP options, but at some point you have a better chance of success by just ignoring the platoon split)

    The trouble with Axford is that he doesn’t even give himself a chance lately. He’s currently walking 8.3 hitters per 9 innings. That’s bad for anybody, much less a late inning guy to whom you hand one-run leads. His FIP has been increasing every year since his debut and right now it’s sitting at 5.90.

    Because he was actually not horrible through May 3, the approach will probably continue to be bringing him in when there are low leverage situations so he can figure it out, but at some point they’re going to have to consider letting him figure it out in Columbus.

  • nj0

    Unless there’s somebody in the minors they think can handle a spot start. House? Banwart?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I think they will bring someone up they like to keep Masterson on his normal routine although the way he’s been pitching maybe a change in routines wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Tremendous victory big time sweep of first place division rival Detroit but this team has to many issues for my liking right now. When they pitch they can’t hit now they hit and they can’t pitch. And the defense is worse then bad it’s pitiful. Way to many moving parts but this is what happens when you platoon people and have people playing all over the place as opposed to one player who can adequately play a position and play it well.

  • Natedawg86

    WTFlip man. So I get to watch a scrub muffin today? I had my mullet wig all combed out last night for the game today. We better score some runs tonight

  • Natedawg86

    Who would I rather have on the hill, Carasco or Axford…..hmmmmm argh

  • cmm13

    Victor’s 2 stolen bases this year disagree. ;)

  • cmm13

    Early reports are they will be bringing up Mark Lowe from Cbus and sending down…. DUH DUH DUUUUUUH. Axford.

  • cmm13

    aaaaand, nevermind. Masterson got bumped up.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    He’s no Ryan Raburn that’s for sure!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Ain’t gonna hurt the way he’s pitched maybe there will be a rainout! On the positive side the longer Masterson pitches like he has been the more chances the Indians can afford to resign him!

  • Steve

    It looks like the Oakland series was catching an awesome team at their hottest. May want to devalue that performance a bit.

  • Hopwin

    I feel like the minor league pitching cupboard is bare as far as starters are concerned. We brought Tomlin and Bauer up already. Not sure who else is ready for a shot at the bigs at this point

  • Steve

    What happened to Marcum? He was supposed to be ready by ST, and he still hasn’t thrown a pitch.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong

    http://www.reactiongifs.com/r/obs.gif

    #AnotherWin4$hamrok

  • mgbode

    Not too much to brag about unless you like 13hour flights and sitting in conference rooms staring at presentations on screens. I did drive past a castle though I didn’t have time to stop or anything if that counts (and by “drive” I mean ride in a taxi because there’s no way I’m driving on the left side of the road).

  • Natedawg86

    Which Masterson?

  • nj0

    It’s just so rare.

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • Garry_Owen

    Bat Masterson