August 14, 2013
Indians 9, Twins 8 (12 Innings)
It is difficult to ascertain the significance of a regular season game in the overall story of a season. When the wins and losses have been tallied, this win will be counted the same as a win in the first week of the season. But right now this win feels as significant as any the Indians have earned up to this point. This team is still reeling from the 1-6 homestand, and starting this 9-game road trip with a series loss in Minnesota would have continued that downward spiral. There are of course almost 50 game remaining, and still time to recover, but with so many other teams in the race, you can't chance falling too far behind, for someone is going to go on a ridiculous run.
The Indians tried to buy some rest for Scott Kazmir by giving Carlos Carrasco the start. After all, he was brilliant against the Angels on Friday night, so the time was ripe to try him in the rotation again. But even under these favorable circumstances, Carrasco's start went almost exactly as all his other starts have gone: short, and dreadful. He lasted just 4.1 innings, allowed 4 runs, and was lucky to only to give up that many, as he allowed 10 hits. He made way too many mistakes in the strike zone, which makes wonder what the heck changed from Friday. It almost has to be a mental thing, with Carlos just overthinking his pitches. You often hear the phrase "see the ball, hit the ball" from coaches and managers, and the analog "see the plate, throw the ball" should be equally relevant. Anyways, Carlos will either go back to Columbus tomorrow, or will go back to the bullpen as a longman, having no opportunity to thing about his future outings.
So the Indians fell behind early 4-0. But it was still early, and the Indians faced a pitcher who shared many of Carrasco's problems. Kyle Gibson is about the same age as Carrasco, has pretty good stuff, and like Carrasco, has really struggled at the major-league level. But unlike Carrasco, this is Gibson's first chance in the majors, so he still has some slack. Gibson lasted an inning longer than Carrasco, but not before allowing three runs on eight base runners. Mike Aviles plated two runs on a two-out single in the fourth, and Michael Brantley's single in the sixth cut the lead to 4-3. Ron Gardenhire used two relievers to get out of the sixth, and that would burn him later on.
The Twins would seemingly break the game open in the bottom of the sixth thanks to Rich Hill. Francona had called upon Hill to get the Indians out of the fifth, which he did, but when he sent the left-hander out for the next inning, he ran into trouble. He gave up a one-out single to Clete Thomas (a left-handed hitter), then hit Pedro Florimon and walked Brian Dozier. Despite all this, Francona left him in to face Joe Mauer, with predictable results. Mauer singled, driving in two and building the Minnesota lead back to three runs. Matt Albers gave up a run in the seventh to push the lead to 7-3.
With only two at-bats left, the Indians were staring another series loss in the face, and was looking at dropping eight out of ten games, with the West Coast portion of their road trip still to come. But the Indians had a surprise in store. After Jason Kipnis' single to start the eighth, Justin Morneau's error gave the Indians an opportunity to get back into the game, and they took full advantage of it. Michael Brantley singled home Kipnis, and then Jason Giambi lined a three-run home run just over the fence in the right field corner. The game was tied, just like that.
The game remained tied up until the tenth inning. Carlos Santana broke the 7-7 tie in the top of the tenth with a solo homer, and it looked as though the Indians would escape Minnesota with a series win. That is, until Joe Mauer took a Chris Perez fastball the other way, tying the game with a solo homer of his own. Perez's pitch wasn't all that bad, but he had fallen behind Mauer 2-0, and the Minnesota catcher was looking for an outside pitch. Perez has gotten rather predictable with his location, and while staying away generally a good strategy for a late-inning reliever, good hitters will just eliminate the inner half of the plate.
What won the game was the bullpen usage. When Ryan Pressly entered the game in the tenth, he was probably the last pitcher available in the bullpen. Anthony Swarzak was technically available, but he had thrown two innings the night before, and the Twins didn't have an off-day on Thursday. So Pressly came out for his third inning of work, and the Indians took full advantage of it. Two singles started the rally, a Santana fly ball to right got Swisher to third, and Michael Brantley's sacrifice fly pushed across the go-ahead run.
This time the Indians didn't blow the save. Joe Smith pitched a perfect inning to clinch a dramatic and perhaps important win for the Indians.