For one night, the magic was back at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. All it took was the kind of shoddy defense the Indians have played all year. This time, it was their opponent who did them the favor.
Since the Eric Wedge era, we have seen plenty of Indians attempting to play positions in the field they shouldn’t be playing all in the name of more offense. Whether it be Ryan Garko in left field, Elliot Johnson in right field, or Luis Valbuena in left (my personal favorite), there have been plenty of adventures in the field that could have been avoided. The Minnesota Twins gave us one of those moments Wednesday night which would turn out to hand the Indians a 4-3 walkoff win.
Asdrubal Cabrera led off the ninth against right-hander Casey Fien. He shot a line drive the opposite way towards left fielder Eduardo Escobar, he of the 13 career outfield innings. Escobar hasn’t even played outfield in winter ball—the utility man is used to playing second and third base. Wednesday was his first start in left. Naturally, in the ninth inning with the game on the line, the ball found Escobar. The kid clearly didn’t have a good feel for where he was compared to the 19 foot wall in left. Asdrubal’s liner was an easy out for 99% of the players in the majors, but Escobar just didn’t pick it up. His misplay gave Cabrera a leadoff double and put the game-winning run in scoring position with nobody out.
“He just didn’t get to it, I’m sure he shied away from the wall,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s not been out there a lot, it was going toward the wall over his head. He got to the warning track and felt he was a little too close, probably.”
Lonnie Chisenhall, one of the Indians hottest bats, was asked to bunt, and laid down a perfect sacrifice which moved Cabrera to third. (Not that anyone is asking me, but despite the fact that Chiz did what he was asked to do, I HATE bunting him in that situation. A single wins the game, why give away an out instead of giving one of your better hitters a chance to swing the bat?) Yan Gomes was next and with the infield in, he swung at the first pitch, which was off the plate, and grounded out. It would be up to Mike Aviles to deliver the two-out hit that would end the game.
Handsome Mike, who had two hits earlier in the game, took a Fien pitch right back up the middle, flipped his bat, and trotted down the first-base line as the Indians notched their first walk-off win of the season. It was a long time coming for this struggling offensive group.
“The way things have been going,” Aviles said, “they haven’t been going the way we planned. But, we know we have a good team. We know what we’re capable of doing and I’m hoping that that win helps us out a little bit and gets us rolling in the right direction.”
Starter Danny Salazar fell behind after he walked the .109 hitting Pedro Florimon with two outs in the third. Florimon took off to steal second and would advance to third on yet another throwing error from Gomes – his ninth of the season. Brian Dozier followed with a single putting the first run on the board. The Twins lead was short lived.
In the home half of the third, Aviles singled off of Twins starter Ricky Nolasco with one out. Nyjer Morgan followed with a single of his own. Nick Swisher walked to load the bases for the Indians most clutch hitter by leaps and bounds, Michael Brantley. Dr. Smooth once again delivered, doubling down the line to right, scoring two. Brantley is now 6-8 with the bases loaded this season.
They would add a third run in the fifth on a leadoff homer from Gomes. The Yanimal owed the team one after his throwing error cost the team a run. His defense had been his calling card last season, but Gomes is clearly having issues in 2014.
Salazar was cruising into the seventh inning, allowing just the one run on four hits and a walk. He had seven strikeouts. But Danny ran into trouble. With one out, Josmil Pinto singled in front of Escobar’s double, and Salazar’s night was over, but the book was yet to be closed.
On came set up man Bryan Shaw who had saved the game a night before. Shaw has been terrific all season and for the first time, showed he was human. Pinch hitter Danny Santana nearly took Shaw’s head off with a single up the middle to inch the Twins closer at 3-2. Dozier’s sac fly tied the game.
Cody Allen pitched a perfect eighth, striking out two of the three batters he faced. With the score still tied heading into the ninth, Francona called on his struggling closer John Axford. As usual, The Ax Man made it interesting by giving up a two out double to Santana and before walking Dozier. However, he got out unscathed after Carlos Santana made a great play leaning into the stands to catch a Sam Fuld pop out. It was one of three phenomenal plays the converted catcher made in the game.
“Santana, he was doing magic with the glove tonight,” Salazar said.
Axford’s high wire act set the stage for Escobar’s adventure in left and Aviles’s heroics.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Morgan’s highlight reel catch in center, robbing Pinto of extra bases. He caught the ball at the top of his jump and slammed against the wall. Asked about it after the game, Tony Plush came out to close to making an appearance.
“I was about to act out, but I had to stay humble. I had to stay within myself. My boy T. Plush was about to come back out from vacation on that one. It was a great play, just trying to back up Star, who was throwing a great game,” “said Morgan.
The Tribe goes for three straight this afternoon at 12:05 with their ace Justin Masterson (1-1, 4.01 ERA) taking the mound. He will face off with Twins righty Kevin Correia (1-3, 6.09 ERA)
(Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)