Felix Hernandez came into tonight's game with an ERA of 2.29, allowing just 7.0 hits per 9 innings, with batters hitting .216/.279/.305 against him. His history against the Indians has also been very good; he's thrown 10 straight Quality Starts against the Indians.
Ubaldo Jimenez, meanwhile, had been mainly Mr. Hyde since his arrival in Cleveland. His occasional turns as Dr. Jekyll seemed only to emphasize that he could be a good or even great pitcher. Could. That's what's made his struggles so maddening; if you knew that a pitcher was terrible, and not likely to be anything but terrible, you could live with that, but seeing a pitcher with the potential to be one of the best in game struggle?
Tonight we had a role reversal. Not quite, as Jimenez wasn't exactly Felix Hernandez on his normal days. But Hernandez was definitely Jimenez on one his worse days.
The oddity started with the bottom of the first, for the game started with Jimenez giving up an early run, though not due to wildness. Ubaldo actually threw mostly strikes in his first inning, with the damage done via the base hit. Dustin Ackley, who seems poised to break out any time now, started the game with a solid single, and went to third on a Michael Saunders single. A run scored on an Ichiro! ground out, but that's all the damage that was incurred. Jimenez had to throw a lot of pitches to get out of the inning, but again, most of those pitches were strikes.
The weirdness really started in the bottom of the inning. The last time the Indians faced Hernandez, they were just a couple of outs from being shut out, but thanks to really bad defense from Jesus Montero and wildness from Felix Hernandez, they scored four runs in the first inning without an RBI hit. Shin-Soo Choo, who is in his third game as leadoff hitter, singled to start the inning, and Jason Kipnis followed him with a single. So far, just like in the top of the inning, but with Hernandez, wildness exacerbated the inning, while Jimenez minimized it by throwing strikes. Hernandez hit Asdrubal Cabrera to load the bases, then uncorked what was ruled a passed ball, allowing the tying run to score. He then allowed a rocket hit right at second baseman Ackley off the bat of Travis Hafner. Pronk was thrown out, but a run scored, and the Indians did in 1/3 an inning what took them practically the entire game to do last month: score two runs off Felix Hernandez.
Carlos Santana then walked, putting runners on at first and third. Michael Brantley struck out (after fouling a pitch off his leg), so the Indians were counting on Johnny Damon for a two-out hit. Or not, since Manny Acta tried to pull off at least a steal of second, but Jesus Montero turned it into something beyond Acta's wildest dreams. The play started when Carlos Santana went to second on a delayed steal. Montero, seeing Asdrubal Cabrera stray a bit down the third base line, threw towards third instead, but the ball went into left field. Cabrera was going back towards third, and start for home; Chone Figgins made a decent throw to home, but Montero let the ball get away from him. Meanwhile Santana, who had never stopped running, came home himself after the ball went to the backstop. Usually a double steal, if it works right, ends up with a run scored and a runner at second. In this case, it ended with two runs in.
But it wasn't just defense that dragged Hernandez down. He just wasn't throwing strikes, and was leaving pitches up in the zone. By the fourth inning, he had thrown around 80 pitches, and the worst was to come. The Indians scored four runs that inning as well, but this time they earned them. After Jose Lopez grounded out to begin the inning, Choo singled and Jason Kipnis doubled, scoring Choo. After Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out, Hafner and Santana doubled, and Brantley singled. None of the hits in the fourth were cheapies; it looked like the Indians were batting against Jason Marquis yesterday. Hernandez was pulled before the inning ended.
Travis Hafner placed an exclamation point on the scoring with as high a home run as you'll ever see in the sixth inning. The ball actually only landed a few rows into the left field seats, but it was a majestic shot all the same.
Ubaldo would allow a third inning homer (to Ackley), but again limited the damage to that. He would get through six innings, and left with a 9-3 lead. Jason Accardo (making his Indians debut), Tony Sipp, and Jairo Asencio each pitched a scoreless inning to end a very nice night of baseball.