The Cleveland Indians, who can resemble the Bad News Bears at times, have come back from the dead with a vengeance. They improbable sweep of the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field may have kicked started their season, which looked all but dead on Sunday night. The series finale was a 13-inning stunner that had everything. The bullpen was so completely fried thanks to a two-inning start from the since-DL’d Zach McAllister that reinforcements were needed. But it wasn’t just as simple as recalling a guy or two.
They had no starting pitcher for last night’s game in Baltimore. Justin Masterson had to be called upon on short rest because the Columbus pipeline didn’t offer an immediate solution. Veteran journeyman Mark Lowe was summoned as well and would no doubt be the first guy out of the pen no matter the situation. The obvious call up – C.C. Lee – was sent down within the last 10 days and could not come back up. Rookie leftyKyle Crockett, whom the Indians wanted to have stay up for the long haul, was the only real option to send down, had to go as well. A starter would be needed for Friday night’s game and that would be T.J. House. Who knew that House almost would have to come on in relief Thursday.
It was a gigantic mess. The Indians desperately needed a strong and potentially deep start from Masterson on three days rest. Early on it looked as though they may have gotten it. But by the end of another 13-inning marathon, Justin’s efforts would be long forgotten as the Tribe pulled out another crazy extra inning win 8-7.
“We’re becoming the team that we want to be and that doesn’t mean that we’re going to win every game,” Terry Francona said. “We’re going to still make mistakes, but there’s not a better feeling as a staff, manager, coaches than when you love your team.”
Through five and a half innings, the one was setting up perfectly for Francona. The Indians carried a 3-0 lead thanks to Ryan Raburn’s solo home run from the cleanup spot (of course that happened as I spent parts of the afternoon on Twitter calling on Tito on this continued move), a Michael Brantley RBI Triple followed by a We-Yin Chen wild pitch. Masterson had shucked and jived his way through five, including working out of a bases loaded, nobody out jam in the fifth of his own doing. Two hit batsman and a walk put him in the predicament, but a 1-2-3 double play and a lineout killed the Orioles rally.
In the home half of the sixth, however, the Bad New Bears re-appeared. With one out, Adam Jones hit a fly ball to right-center. Both Michael Bourn and David Murphy were there to make the play and neither did. It is Bourn’s ball all the way, yet he never took command the way a center fielder is supposed to. Jones’s fly out all of a sudden was a double. After Masterson came back to get Chris Davis to strike out, he walked Nelson Cruz, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world considering first base was open and backup catcher Steve Clevenger was up next. Veteran umpire Joe West was behind the plate and blew a strike three call that completely unraveled Masterson. It turned out to be the beginning of the end for him.
Clevenger singled home Jones to put the Orioles on the board. Masterson had to bear down to minimize the damage. Instead, he threw gas on the fire. J.J. Hardy singled up the middle which scored Cruz. Then came the big blow. Ryan Flaherty, who hadn’t hit a home run all season, took one over the high wall in right. A 3-0 lead turned into a 5-3 deficit that quickly. Masterson couldn’t finish the inning after he walked David Lough.
This one, like the day before, was long from over.
The Indians showed some of that Francona-like grit that we got to know so well a year ago by responding right away. They got a Magic Johnson-type assist from the Baltimore D. With one out and Yan Gomes on first, the struggling Carlos Santana hit what looked like a double play ball to short. Hardy failed to make the play and the ball trickled past him. Not sure how the play was scored a hit, but Gomes running hard all the way, made it to third. David Murphy was next and hit a double play ball to second base, but Flaherty booted it and could only get Murphy at first, allowing a run to score. With two out it was Mike Aviles’s turn to play hero. The Handsome One came through with a game-tying single to left, which chased Chen. Bourn kept the inning going with single off of left-handed reliever Brian Matusz. Asdrubal Cabrera looked like he had broken the game open with a deep drive to left, but Lough made a home run saving catch to end the inning.
We were back to where we started but the Indians defense was about to become a factor again and not in a positive way.
Lowe made his first appearance as a member of the Tribe and deserved much better. He struck out Nick Markakis to start the seventh. Manny Machado then sent a routine groundball to third which Cabrera bobbled for an error. It was OK, because Lowe induced a perfect 5-4-3 double play ball towards Santana at third which would have ended the inning. Except Carlos threw the ball into right field for a brutal error. Cruz’s sac fly put the Orioles back on top 6-5 heading to the eighth.
Was their any magic left? With the way the Indians defense had seemingly given this one away, you had to think they didn’t.
Matusz struck out Brantley and then gave way to righty Darren O’Day who came on to face Raburn. The sidewinder had given up just one earned run in 17 innings coming in. Francona called upon the man who has turned from failed prospect to stud over night, Lonnie Chisenhall. The Legend of Lonnie was about to grow even bigger. O’Day left a slider over the middle of the plate and Lonnie deposited it over the wall in right to once again tie this game up. The #FreeLonnie movement is in full effect.
Things would stay tied into extra innings for a second straight day. Both teams received stellar work from their pen. Lefty Zach Britton and ex-Indian Preston Guilmet held the Tribe scoreless for four and a third. They were matched by Cody Allen, John Axford, and Josh Outman. Axford’s scoreless inning was a huge boost, considering the lack of confidence anyone in the Tribe Nation seems to have for him. Outman’s two strong innings set the stage for the final act of this Wahoo winner.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter turned to his third lefty, Troy Patton, with one out in the 13th. Brantley greeted him immediately with a single. Chisenhall was next. For some reason, Lonnie tried a drag bunt and the ball turned into somewhat of a line drive which went over the head of the first baseman Davis for a single. When you are hot, you are hot. Patton then lost control and walked Nick Swisher to load the bases. Gomes had the first shot to drive in the go-ahead run, but failed as his fly ball to right was not deep enough. It was up to the coldest Indian of the all, Santana.
To say Carlos has had a poor season would be an understatement. He just isn’t hitting and he is back to all of his bad pull-happy habits that he worked so hard to get rid of. If anyone was due, Santana was. Carlos got his pitch, and laced a double just over the bag at third which would score two. The Tribe was back on top 8-6.
“It was kind of fitting that he got a big hit, because he hit the ball hard twice for outs,” Francona said. “He’s been swinging better lately. He’s run into some tough luck and instead of hanging his head he went and got us a game-winning hit.”
Scott Atchison, who has been so valuable to the Indians bullpen this season at age 38, picked up the save despite giving up a solo homer to Markakis. He had worked two innings the day before and Francona was hoping to avoid using him in this one.
“Everybody in our bullpen has thrown a lot in the last two days,” said Atchison. “But we manned up and did what we had to do to keep the game where it was until the offense came around. And they came around with a big hit in what was it. . .the 13th? I lost count some\where a long the line.”
This 13-inning, four-hour and 22 minute marathon was another case of Wahoo grit overcoming Wahoo madness. In theory if the defense makes the routine plays, the Indians have a 5-0 lead late. The Baseball Gods had other plans.
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)