April 27, 2013
Chapter 20: Opportunity knocks, Indians don't answer
It may take some getting used to, but now the Royals have a functional major-league rotation. Ervin Santana was just one of many major moves taken by Kansas City to rebuild their staff; the Royals essentially were given him (and his $13M contract) by the Angels after an awful 2012 season. But Santana in his career has not been a consistent pitcher from year-to-year, and the Royals at least thus far are reaping the benefits of that. Through last night's game, Santana has struck out 7.8/9 and walked just 1.3/9, great peripherals backing up a 2.00 ERA through 5 starts.
The key to last night's game ended up being the relative lengths of the starters' outings. Scott Kazmir went five innings, allowing two runs, and Santana went seven innings, not giving up a run. Those extra two innings the Indians had to fill with their middle relief turned out to be the difference in the game, though they also had some opportunities to take away that difference.
The first key opportunity happened in the top of the third inning. Kansas City's Salvador Perez had just hit a two-run homer the inning before (somehow shooting a shoulder-high pitch in the other batter's box over the right field wall), but the Indians had a rally of their own going thanks to some BABIP love. Drew Stubbs shot a liner through the infield, then after Michael Brantley grounded out to first place (with Stubbs going to second), Jason Kipnis reached on weak pop right at second base; Alcides Escobar and Stubbs got tangled up at the bag, and the ball got away from Escobar. Then Asdrubal Cabrera (who seems to be having much better at-bats lately) hit a shot to right that loaded the bases. Nick Swisher then to sharp grounder to the right side of the infield, but right at second baseman Elliot Johnson; had that ball been a couple feet on either side of the Johnson, the Indians score two runs and the game would have gone much different.
That was the Indians' last opportunity to get to Santana; the Indians managed just two singles against the Kansas City starter after that. That also set up things nicely for the Royals, who had their two key back-end guys ready for the eighth and ninth. Meanwhile Scott Kazmir had settled down somewhat after the Perez homer, but a lot of early inning pitches prevented him from going any farther than the fifth inning. With all those off days this past week, the Indians could manage a short outing from Kazmir, but as it turned out, manager Terry Francona managed to get almost everyone in the bullpen in the game in just one inning.
That one inning was the seventh. Cody Allen had pitched a solid sixth inning, and had gotten the first out of the seventh when Francona started to play matchup by bringing in Nick Hagadone to face Elliot Johnson and Alex Gordon. Hagadone struck out Johnson, but gave up a single to Gordon after a long at-bat. But rather than trust Hagadone to get Alcides Escobar out, Francona tried to get too cute, bringing in Bryan Shaw to finish the seventh. That's when the craziness really began. Shaw walked Escobar, then walked Billy Butler, bringing up left-hander Eric Hosmer, so of course Francona had to match up a left-hander against him. So in came Rich Hill, the fourth pitcher of the inning. Hill walked Hosmer to force in a key third run for the Royals, and then he was removed. Joe Smith ended the madness by getting Lorenzo Cain to ground out. But of course Matt Albers pitched the eighth, meaning that six relievers were used to get six outs. I understand that everyone in the bullpen needed work, but with five games in the next four days, you'd think Francona would have some restraint.
As mentioned above, the Indians faced the Royals' setup man and closer in the eighth and ninth innings. They had much better luck against Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland then they had against Santana, though again they had opportunities to not only tie the game, but to take the lead. In the eighth inning, Michael Brantley greeted Herrera with a leadoff double, and went to third on a wild pitch. However, Brantley would not be brought home, for Jason Kipnis struck out, Asdrubal Cabrera popped out to the third baseman, and after a Nick Swisher walk, Jason Giambi struck out to end the threat.
That run not scored in the eighth would haunt the Indians, as in the ninth, Michael Brantley hit a two -run triple with two outs, making the score 3-2. Jason Kipnis then swung and missed on a 2-2 pitch that got away from the catcher, but he stood at the plate while Perez retrieved the ball and ran back to tag him, ending the game. Later, Kipnis would apologize on Twitter for not running the ball out:
I pride myself on playing the game hard and the right way.. And in that last at-bat I didn't do it.. Already apologized to Tito and the gang— Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) April 28, 2013
Would it have changed the outcome, probably not.. But running to first on a drop 3rd is always the right thing to do #lessonlearned— Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) April 28, 2013
It probably wouldn't have changed anything (the ball hadn't gone that far away), but with a runner on third, a poorly thrown ball would have meant a tie game.