Entering the eighth inning with his squad embroiled in yet another close game, a 2-2 tie, Manny Acta chose to go with Rafael Perez in anticipation of exploiting lefty-lefty matchups against Gerardo Parra, Kelly Johnson, and Stephen Drew. Perez's 475 OPS vs LHBs is not the best one in the bullpen—Tony Sipp (336) and, bizarrely, Joe Smith (342) have each been better. Now, those numbers have limited value—relievers make their livings in small samples and statistics don't reflect anything close to their full performance.
And that last point, that statistics don't often tell the story with relievers, is precisely why I cringed when Raffy Perez entered this ballgame. Perez has somehow walked a tightrope leading to a sub-two ERA this year but, to my eyes, he's not often performed in a way that such an ERA would lead you to believe. Nearly all analysis would point towards Tony Sipp and Vinnie Pestano as the best relievers in the bullpen, with a miasma of Raffy P, Chad Durbin, and Joe Smith swirling in their wake. Chris Perez has existed in some nether region where, qualitatively, he looks as capable as Sipp and Pestano, but, quantitatively, not performing to the level of his comrades. Regardless, all of the key relievers have been 'good' in the sense that they haven't surrendered runs and Acta, to his credit or fault, seems to think they're all sort of awesome. At least that's what his usage pattern would indicate.
If you didn't watch the game, I'm sure these last two paragraphs make it obvious that Rafael Perez screwed this up—he surrendered a leadoff single to Parra, who was bunted over Diamondbacks starter Daniel Hudson and then driven home by Kelly Johnson. After Perez got the second out of the inning on a Stephen Drew groundout, Joe Smith came in and also couldn't stay out of trouble, allowing Johnson to score and another man to reach before finally Acta went to one of his best relievers—Sipp. Sipp came in and retired the first batter he faced, via the groundout.
And, if you didn't watch the game, those paragraphs would seem to indicate that the Indians lost the game on the basis of this sequence. They didn't. JJ Putz entered the game to close out what had become a 4-2 lead for Arizona and, just as he did the night before, he struggled. Orlando Cabrera, apparently Putz's personal bugaboo, walked to start the inning, bringing the Indians best hitter this year, Asdrubal Cabrera, to the plate. Astro got a cookie, a knee high fastball that he thought he could drive, and he popped it up to left field. As the out was recorded, Asdrubal slammed his bat down, a telling moment given how frustrating this last month has been for Cleveland and also, perhaps, a decent indication of how little confidence Asdrubal has in the rest of the offense. Regardless of the armchair, bat-slamming psychology, Carlos Santana did his part to show Asdrubal that he wasn't going it alone, taking a cookie of his own, another down the pipe fastball, and turning on it viciously, parking it in right field to tie the game. To say that Santana has remarkable bat speed would be an understatement.
At this point Acta stayed with Sipp for the bottom of the ninth, exactly the guy that the smarty-pants blogger thought should've been the choice in the disastrous eight inning. Except, lo and behold, Sipp wasn't any good. He walked the leadoff man, Ryan Roberts who somehow managed to steal second and third base off Sipp and Santana. Still, Sipp had gotten the first two outs. Roberts didn't really need to do all that stealing, though, because Wily Mo Pena (seriously) took a Sipp pitch out to left field for a game-winning, two-run home run. I suppose you could argue that Acta should've gone with his best righty matchup remaining, the often dominant Pestano, but with extra innings looming I can't fault him for staying with one of his top three relievers. Point being: managing a bullpen is a crapshoot and, for the most part, I probably ought to keep my mouth shut about it if Sipp's performance is any indication.
Lost in all this was an excellent start from Tomlin, in which he also collected two hits and an RBI.
A win today could've put the Indians back into a tie for first place. It's inappropriate to say that we're watching the team's demise, especially considering how lousy the AL Central is, but the Indians are now in a stretch of losing six of eight while posting a run differential of only -6. Losing this many close games in a row isn't just demoralizing, it's also squandering winnable games. Tomorrow, the Indians will try to win a series for the first time since they swept the Pirates on June 19. Carlos Carrasco will face Zach Duke at 3:40 EST. Now, I've got to go slam a bat in the parking lot.
J. Tomlin (pitcher)
J. Tomlin (hitter)