September 17, 2013
This one encompassed the full range of emotions, not only because of the game itself, but because of how important it was for both teams. This was essentially an elimination game for the Royals, for although they are still mathematically alive, they had to sweep the Indians in order to have any kind of chance of snagging one of the Wild Card spots. And the Indians, who began the series in good shape, really needed at least one win in Kansas City to keep them in the driver's seat. Had they lost this game, it would have made tonight's game a must-win for both teams, and had the Indians lost that one, they would have left Kansas City tied with the Royals and possible the Orioles as well.
Because of the importance of this game to both teams, the game was managed much like a playoff game would. Even though the Indians don't have another off day until next Monday, they emptied out their usable bullpen in an effort to steal this win, and it worked. How it worked is quite a story.
The Royals gave the ball to one Yordano Ventura, one of their better prospects. Nicknamed "Little Pedro," because of both his small build and lethal stuff, he lived up to his billing in his first major-league start. The Indians helped him out early with two double plays in the first couple innings, and he settled down to shut the Indians out through five innings.
Meanwhile Corey Kluber was making his first start in which there was essentially no pitch restrictions. But he struggled with Fielden Culbreth's strike zone, pitching from behind most of the game. And the Tribe defense certainly didn't help matters. Already leading 1-0 in the third inning (one out), Emilio Bonifacio hit a sharp grounder that in my opinion Lonnie Chisenhall needs to field, but instead the ball deflected off his glove into left field. Then Bonifacio got caught breaking for second base, but Cabrera didn't catch the ball. Two walks later, the bases were loaded, which set the stage for the Royals to go ahead of the Indians 3-0.
At this point, with Ventura on a roll and Kansas City's bullpen looming, things didn't look good either for the game or for the season. Again, a loss would have meant Wednesday's game would be a must-win game for both clubs, with the Royals having all the momentum. But then something happened: the Indians, in Nick Swisher's words, pulled a rabbit out of their hat. They finally got to Ventura in the sixth inning. Michael Brantley, as he's done all season, broke the ice with a two-out, full-count base hit to right field. After that hit, the bullpen battle began in earnest, for Ned Yost pulled Ventura and brought in Will Smith to turn Asdrubal Cabrera around, but Smith walked Cabrera to load the bases. Then Louis Coleman was brought in to face Ryan Raburn, and when Raburn struck out I (and probably most of you) thought that that was the best opportunity of the night to get back into the game, and the Indians didn't take advantage of it.
But amazingly enough, that was just the beginning. Old friend Kelvin Herrera, the one Royals reliever the Indians has had success off of lately, came in to pitch the seventh, and after hitting Yan Gomes, gave up a huge triple to Michael Bourn. Nick Swisher then hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Bourn and Swisher were the team's big acquisitions last winter, and they came through when the team needed them most.
Then in the eighth inning, the Indians took the lead. After Carlos Santana walked to lead off the inning. Michael Brantley hit a ball that, had Eric Hosmer fielded it cleanly, would have at least gotten the force at second. But he bobbled it, and Drew Stubbs (for pinch-ran for Santana) moved into scoring position. Then Asdrubral Cabrera, who has failed so many times in big situations this season, came through, lining a ball to deep left that ticked off of Alex Gordon's glove. Stubbs scored the go-ahead run, and the Indians were on their way to stunning victory. Michael Bourn hit a no-doubt homer in the ninth to give Chris Perez some breathing room, but he didn't need it, as he retired the side in order (Bonifacio ground out, Hosmer strike out, Butler strike out).
So the game that started so poorly ended being perhaps the biggest win in six seasons. It certainly felt like a playoff win, and was immensely satisfying to Terry Francona:
"Tonight was one of the more gratifying wins I've been a part of," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You've got two good teams playing hard. Fortunately, we got out of here with a win."