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)