July 2, 2013
On their last road trip, the Indians seemed to give up big hits left and right, and came up just short at the end of the game. On this trip, they've given up big hits, but they've managed to win despite giving them up. Now winning like this isn't sustainable, as eventually someone on the club won't come through when desperately needed, but then again, this game should have been a Tribe blowout from the early innings.
For the opening game of this relatively important series the Indians drew Luis Mendoza, the Royals' fifth starter, and on this particular night they drew a Luis Mendoza that couldn't throw the ball over the plate. But try as Mendoza might to give the game early, the Indians just couldn't land the knockout blow. After Mendoza walked in a run and plunked in another, Jason Giambi broke his bat on a 2-0 pitch, hitting into an inning-ending double play. Before Giambi's at-bat, manager Ned Yost directed the bullpen to get busy, but the quick end to the inning ended that for the time being.
Mendoza did not settle down after that difficult inning, allowing two more base runners in the third and loading the bases again in the fourth. The Indians would score two more on an Asdrubal Cabrera single, but a Jason Kipnis double play (it is after all not June anymore) ended the threat. Still, Yost had seen enough, and Luke Hochever came out to start the fifth inning.
Corey Kluber did not have problems with command, at least in the early innings. He'd gotten away from his fastball in the last couple starts, and he made it a point to be aggressive with the heater tonight. And for four innings, he looked excellent, scattering just two base runners (a second inning double and a third inning HBP). But after the first two batters of the fifth reached on broken bat bloop base hits, Kluber lost his command, walking the next hitter and going 3-0 to Alex Gordon, the Royals' best hitter. Gordon was obviously a follower of Terry Francona's "swing on 3-0 dictum", for he jumped on the Kluber 3-0 belt-high fastball and drove it over the right field fence for a grand slam, turning a 4-0 deficit into a 4-4 tie on one swing of the bat.
After Kluber walked Salvador Perez with one out in the sixth. Terry Francona had seen enough. He replaced Kluber with Nick Hagadone, and later Cody Allen, to finish off the inning. Francona tonight had a nine-man bullpen at his disposal, a nine-man bullpen that was completely rested thanks to Justin Masterson's complete game shutout and Monday's off day. So in some respects Masterson deserves a smidgen of credit for tonight's win, as Francona manages the game completely different if a couple key guys needed the night off.
The momentum at this point seemed completely in favor of Kansas City, as the Indians hadn't fully capitalized on several early opportunities, only to see the Royals jump on their first chance. But in the top of the seventh, wildness again struck of the Kansas City pitching staff. Tim Collins walked both Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis to start the inning, then Aaron Crow walked Nick Swisher to load the bases with one out. After an excellent at-bat, Carlos Santana flew out to the deepest part of Kaufman Stadium to give the Indians the lead. Then, after Mark Reynolds struck out, Jason Giambi lined an RBI double down the right field line, giving the Indians what would be their margin of victory.
Francona could now use Smith, Pestano, and Perez for the last three innings, a strategy he'd rarely been able to use this season. Smith has been reliable, but the other two have battled both injuries and bad performances. Smith pitched a quiet seventh, but Pestano allowed a single to Eric Hosmer and a double to Billy Butler to start the eighth, cutting the lead to 6-5. Pestano, as has been usual lately, had a good slider, but an awful fastball. After Salvador Perez grounded out, moving the tying run to third, Pestano walked Mike Moustakas, and it looked like all those early opportunities missed would end up hurting the Indians after all. But the Tribe lucked out, as the speedy David Lough hit a rocket right at Jason Kipnis, and the resulting double play got Pestano and the Indians out of the inning still with the lead.
Perez had his own problems in the ninth. His stuff was actually fairly good (although his fastball isn't completely back to normal), but command almost cost him the game. After retiring the first batter of the inning, he walked Jarrod Dyson to get to Alex Gordon, and Gordon laced a single into right field. Thanks to Ned Yost's stupid lineup construction, Perez now faced Alcides Escobar, and he struck the KC shortstop out. His final hurdle was the hot-hitting Eric Hosmer. There was a base open, and Elliot Johnson (who had run for Butler in the eighth) was on deck, but Perez got Hosmer to ground out weakly to the shortstop to end the game.
Because the Tigers won, the Indians only maintained their half-game lead over second-place Detroit, but the win dropped the Royals 5.5 games behind the Tribe.
AL Central Standings
Roll Call (37 Commenters)
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