Tonight the Indians hit 'em where they were.
It was a beautiful night in Northeast Ohio, one of the first of the home season, and over 6,000 people decided to walk up to the stadium and buy a ticket. They, along with roughly 22,000 others, saw a crisp, well-pitched game that saw the home team fall just short.
On the mound for the newly-named Miami Marlins was Carlos Zambrano, who has been the National League's version of Derek Lowe. Both Lowe and Zambrano were dumped by their respective clubs before the last year of their contracts, and in doing so paid a large share of both's 2012 salary. In Zambrano's case, the Chicago Cubs are paying $15.45M of $18.0M owed him this season, and so far it's looking like a great deal for the Marlins. Zambrano has always had some of the best stuff in baseball, and this season he's harnessed his emotions. That being said, Zambrano's line score of 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R is a bit deceptive, for the Indians had several loud outs during the game.
The Indians struck first, scoring two runs in the bottom of the second inning. After Johnny Damon worked a two-out walk, Casey Kotchman lined a ball down the right field line. Scoring from first on a ball down the right field in Progressive Field takes a good set of wheels, so that the 38-year-old Damon was able to slide in ahead of the tag showed that even at an advanced baseball age, he can still be a net positive on the base paths. Now his arm, as we'll see later, is another story. The Indians scored again thanks to Shin-Soo Choo's line drive single into left field, one of the few Tribe line drives that wasn't caught.
Justin Masterson had one of his better outings against tonight, although he had some help. The Marlins are one baseball's best running teams, which isn't a surprise given both the makeup of their roster and their manager. Ozzie Guillen's teams are always aggresive on the base paths, even when they aren't necessarily built to run. But this club is, for they've stolen 44 bases, tops in the NL. Emilio Bonifacio has almost half of that total (20), and going into tonight's game, hadn't been caught. But when he attempted his 21st stolen base in the fifth, Santana made a perfect throw, nabbing the speedy center fielder. That was the second caught stealing of the game, and before the inning was out, he'd collect a third. Those three outs on the bases helped to keep Masterson's pitch count down, and he was able to finished seven innings.
But like so many other times this season, Masterson was undone by walks. He allowed two runs, both runs scored by batters who reached base via the walk. In the third inning it was Bryan Peterson who led off with a walk and scored on a ground out, and in the sixth Omar Infante walked and later scored a sacrifice fly to shallow left field (had Shelley Duncan and not Johnny Damon caught the fly, the play at the plate would have at least been close).
Even after Masterson left the game, walks continued to haunt the Indians. Tony Sipp, who was brought on to face the left-handed Peterson to start the eighth, walked him, and thanks to a bad throw by Joe Smith, Peterson scored what was to be the winning run after Hanley Ramirez drove him home with a sacrifice fly to deep center. Ramirez probably should have been struck out the pitch before, but the umpire wasn't giving the outside corner all night.
Heath Bell, another one of the Marlins' big pickups this winter, saved just his fourth game by retiring the Indians in order.