MLB Recap: Cleveland Indians 5, Houston Astros 4: Reynolds shines on offense and defense late.

The instant before ball met popcorn. - Scott Halleran

Four solo homers and some tense but effective relief pitching gives the Indians the game and series win over the Astros.

April 21, 2013

Indians 5, Astros 4

Chapter 17: Reynolds shines close and late

Today's start from Ubaldo Jimenez was promising and concerning at the same time, if that's possible. It was promising because he finally threw strikes and was efficient with his pitch counts, but concerning because the few times he got into the stretch, he got burned (though with some mitigating circumstances). In the first inning, after walking Jose Altuve, he gave up a two-run homer to Fernando Martinez. Then he gave up a single, and what should have been at least a double, but Drew Stubbs made a fine play to track the long fly down, and doubled up the runner at first.

After that Ubaldo settled down in a big way. Yes, there were some good to very good defensive players made behind him, but he seemed to be much more in control of his mechanics. Now part of this could be that he was facing a lineup full of players that probably should be in AAA, a lineup that for the most part didn't have a major-league approach to at-bats. But baby steps, right?

Unfortunately, when Ubaldo next got into the stretch again, he got burned quickly. After Marwin Gonzalez went the other way with the single to start the sixth, then Jose Altuve hit a triple that in all fairness Ryan Raburn should have caught. Suddenly a fairly comfortable 4-2 lead turned into a 4-3 lead with a runner on third and nobody out. Even though Jimenez had thrown 65 pitches to that point, Terry Francona pulled him then and there. Part of that had to do with Jimenez's recent history, and part of had to do with the back end of the bullpen being rested thanks to Corey Kluber's work the night before. The Astros would plate the tying run on a sacrifice fly, but they wouldn't score again (not that they didn't have further opportunities).

The Indians were facing Erik Bedard, a pitcher likely in the last stages of his career. Once a power pitcher, numerous arm injuries have sapped Bedard of his early velocity, and now he's a finesse pitcher without the requisite control. He only allowed two runs in his outing, but that outing only lasted through the fourth inning, as he hadn't yet stretched himself out to the point where 90-100 pitches were realistic. The Indians got to him in the second inning with a Yan Gomes home run, and Ryan Raburn singled home Carlos Santana with two outs in the fourth. Raburn's single would mark the only time the Indians would score a hit that wasn't a solo homer.

Carlos Santana and Drew Stubbs hit a solo homer in the fifth and sixth innings respectively. Santana's homer might have left the park had there not been an advertising sign in the way, and although Stubbs' home run barely left the yard, it was no less memorable thanks to a large popcorn bucket belonging to a fan in the front row. Here's two angles of the collision, courtesy of SBN:

Popcorn_medium

via assets.sbnation.com


Popcornhr_medium

via assets.sbnation.com


After the Astros tied the game in the sixth, Mark Reynolds hit his 7th homer of the season to give the Indians a 5-4 lead. With the one-run lead, the Indians could use Smith/Pestano/Perez in a high-leverage situation for the first time since the opening series of the season. All three though showed some rust, as they each allowed at least the first runner of the inning to reach, with Smith and Perez having the biggest jams to work out of. Smith allowed the first two to reach via singles, and got out of it mainly because Marwin Gonzalez couldn't put down a bunt. Chris Perez allowed the first two to reach as well, but this time Gonzalez was able to sacrifice the runners to second and third with the top of the order coming up. The Indians put Jose Altuve, by far the Astros' best hitter, on to load the bases with one out. Perez struck out Chris Carter, bringing up Jason Castro with the game on the line.

Let's back up a bit first. Because of injuries, a short bench, and a left-hander starting, Terry Francona had to use a creative lineup. Ryan Raburn played right (which ended up hurting the Indians on Altuve's triple), Carlos Santana played first (to avoid losing the DH should Yan Gomes get hurt), Mike Aviles started at shortstop (because of Asdrubal Cabrera's wrist injury), and last but not least, Mark Reynolds made his first start of the season at third baseball so that Lonnie Chisenhall could sit against a left-handed pitcher. Reynolds came up as a third baseman, but was never even an average defender there, and was moved to first base full-time last year.

OK, back to the action. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Juan Castro faced Chris Perez with the bases loaded. With two outs, any single through the infield would result in a walk-off victory for the Astros, and an infield error or base hit would tie the game. Castro hit a sharp grounder in Reynolds' direction, and the fill-in third baseman fielded it cleanly and threw to first to end the game. So Reynolds not only hit what turned out to be the game-winning home run, he also made the game-saving defensive play. Not bad.

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