September 9, 2013
For seven innings, the Indians played as well a game as they've played in quite a while. No, they didn't blow out the Royals over the first seven innings, but given the pitcher they were facing (Ervin Santana), those four runs were as good as eight. And Ubaldo Jimenez, for two years now the (deserved) object of LGT scorn, stepped up in a big game to hold the Royals, who have had a league-average offense in the second half, to just one unearned run.
It was an eclectic collection of players that helped the Indians build that 4-1 lead.
- Ubaldo Jimenez was a high-profile acquisition in 2011 that bombed out in a similar situation to now (late August of 2011) and was the worst starter in baseball in 2012. But he became first a decent back-of-the-rotation starter at the beginning/middle of the 2013 season, and in August and September he's been one of the pitchers in the game. In the second half (not including this game) he has a 2.22 ERA, and has both increased his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate. We're getting into the realm of the miraculous here, folks, and tonight was another minor miracle. Ubaldo went seven innings the night after almost every important Tribe reliever pitched, striking out 10 batters and not walking a batter. Now I can buy the 10 strikeouts part, but I still can't believe the zero walk part. Even when he was good in Colorado, Ubaldo walked lots of batters, but since the All-Star Break he's been nailing the strike zone like post-2007 Cliff Lee. If the Indians had their choice of Wild Card Game starters (assuming Justin Masterson isn't available), is there any doubt that they wouldn't choose Ubaldo to start it? My mind is blown.
- Yan Gomes was acquired in a very low-profile acquisition last winter. He was considered a future bench guy, just like Cord Phelps was considered a future bench guy. Gomes' catching abilities weren't that highly regarded ("average arm" was a typical phrase) and was ranked by Baseball America just ahead of Thomas Neal and two spots behind Dillon Howard in the Indians organization. Well, if Toronto would have kept him in the minors a couple more weeks last year, he'd be the runaway winner of the AL Rookie of the Year. Gomes going into last night's game had a 3.2 bWAR despite only appearing in 70 games, and only playing every day since the middle of August. Carlos Santana hasn't really done anything to lose time behind the plate (for goodness' sake, he has a 131 OPS+), but Yan Gomes has fairly won the starting catching job because of what he's done behind the plate and at it. Tonight he threw out two out of three potential base stealers, made a nice play to nab Jarrod Dyson (blocking the plate and catching the ball on the opposite side of the plate in one motion), and hit an opposite-field home run in the fifth inning.
- Jose Ramirez was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, and finished last season in Lake County. But he took advantage of an aggressive promotion to Akron, through several circumstances (Juan Diaz's awful season, the need for a pinch-runner) he ended up part the Indians' September callups. And in his first major-league start, he played a position that he'd played in just eight professional games. But Terry Francona had a hunch that he'd do well, and besides, both Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles had had absolutely no success against Ervin Santana. In his first at-bat of the game, he got his first major-league hit, and when he took off for second, he didn't stop when Drew Stubbs hit a grounder to third. The throw from first to third got past Mike Moustakas and Ramirez scored the second run of the game. Ramirez would however give a run back thanks to his throwing error later in the game.
But those seven innings of good baseball were almost chucked away, as in the eighth inning Cody Allen gave up an Alcides Escobar double that just about cleared the fence, and then gave up an actual home run to Alex Gordon. Now Chris Perez would only have a one-run lead to work with.
To say the ninth inning wasn't easy is the understatement of the year. Perez gave up a leadoff single to Salvador Perez, then walked Mike Moustakas. If not for Ned Yost's overmanaging, that start could have led to outright disaster. David Lough pinch-hit for the express purpose of laying down a bunt, which he did. Now Carlos Pena, who is one of the worst contact hitters in the game today, pinch-hit for Jarrod Dyson and didn't lift the bat off his shoulder, as he took a 3-2 pitch for strike three. Perez then walked George Kotteras, yet another pinch-hitter, bringing up Alex Gordon with the bases loaded. He fell behind 2-1, but somehow got Gordon to swing at a high fastball and pop out to end a heart-stopping ninth inning.
The reason why that ninth inning was so important was that the Royals starting the evening 1.5 games behind the Indians, and the Indians started the evening 2.0 games behind the idle Rays. Because of that Gordon popup, the Indians are now 1.5 games behind the Rays, and the Royals 2.5 games behind the Indians. The Indians and Royals will play five more times over the next nine days, so the Royals aren't out of the race by any stretch of the imagination, but tonight's win was a big one for the Indians, as it gives them a bit of cushion. They can afford to split the six games with the Royals, while the Royals need to win at least four out of the six games just to have a chance at passing the Indians.
AL Games of Interest
- Baltimore (0.0) 4, New York Yankees (-1.5) 2 - Final
- Chicago White Sox 5, Detroit (4.5) 1 - Final
- Pittsburgh 1, Texas (+4.0) 0 - Final
American League Wild Card Standings