September 24, 2013
In the span of - what, 15 minutes? - we experienced the complete gamut of baseball emotions, from nervous anticipation (the start of the top of the ninth), numbness (Viciedo's home run), anger (De Aza's home run), pure rage (the realization that Chris Perez had crapped the bed in the biggest save opportunity of his career), resignation (when Yan Gomes struck out to begin the bottom of the ninth), hope (when Brantley's ground ball somehow got through the infield), hopelessness (when Mike Aviles struck out), and then total shock and milliseconds later utter joy when Jason Giambi did this:
It wasn't just the home run in isolation that made this game so special. It was everything that led up it, every game that led up it. In 2002, Bill Selby hit a walk-off grand slam off of Mariano Rivera, but that gem happened smack dab in the middle of one of the worst seasons in modern Indians history. It was a cool thing to happen, but it didn't really mean a whole lot. Giambi's home run may end up saving the season for the Indians, and you can't get much more important than that in a regular-season game. And that it happened just after what could have been a devastating top of the ninth made the emotional high that much more, uh, high.
Lost in all the events of the ninth inning was just another great outing by Ubaldo Jimenez, who won't be shown on highlights much, but is just as responsible as Giambi is for this win. After Justin Masterson went down in that game against Baltimore early in September, it felt like the season was over then. Masterson was the ace of the staff, and without him the Indians had a bunch of guys on pitch counts and Ubaldo Jimenez in the rotation, and that wasn't going to hold up for the rest of the year. But Jimenez stepped up when the team needed him most, both tonight and all this month, and that should not be forgotten. That this came after almost two years of utter failure makes for another compelling storyline in a season full of them.
Jimenez wasn't at his best last night, but he still held the White Sox to two earned ones, one of which scored after he left the game. He went 6.1 innings, a common outing length now. He didn't have the command he's had of late. Perhaps that was due to the cool fall evening, or perhaps some other reason, but the important thing is that he never panicked, never overpitched, and kept the team in the game. You can't win in dramatic fashion in your starting pitcher doesn't give you the chance to.
Jimenez was pulled after he walked Josh Phegley (a hard thing to do) to give the White Sox runners on first and second with one out. Cody Allen was called upon to quell the rally. Allen has been much more hittable in the latter stages of the year because are seeing the ball better off him, and has been working to get his mechanics back to where they were at the beginning of the season. Well, Alejandro De Aza saw 96-mph fastball just fine, and laced it into left field to break the 1-1 tie, and that meant that the Indians would need to rally late.
The rally came right away, as in the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh. Michael Brantley, who has made it a habit of working counts methodically, jumped on the first pitch by Hector Santiago and hammered it deep into the right field seats. Then, with two outs, Jason Kipnis lined a RBI single to left to give the Indians a 3-2 with six outs to go.
The first three outs looked to be toughest, as they were Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, and Avisail Garcia, all dangeous hitters who could take you deep if you made a mistake. But Joe Smith navigated those waters with a steady hand, and retired the White Sox in order. That meant that Chris Perez would face the bottom of the order in the ninth. As it turned, it didn't really matter who he faced, as the mistakes he made would have gotten hammered no matter who he threw them to. He left a ball up to Dayan Viciedo, who hit it out the other way to tie the game, silencing what had been one of the best crowds of the season.* Then he struck out the next two batters, and then he gave up the go-ahead run when he made a mistake with another fastball to Alejandro De Aza. He left to a chorus of well-deserved boos.
At this point the life of the season started to flash before your eyes. With Texas leading, it looked like the Indians and Rangers would be tied in about 20-30 minutes, and with that the possibility of missing the playoffs entirely becomes much more likely. You start to think about the bad things that happened, the Detroit sweep in August, the horrid road trip at the end of August, all crowded back into the forefront of your mind. All those good things that happened in September? What good things? Was this going to be like 2005 all over again?
But when Jason Giambi jumped on Addison Reed's curve, all those ominous thoughts were banished. Suddenly things were all right again. Suddenly it is was only a question of how far this team will go in the playoffs, not whether they would make it at all. One swing of the bat was all it took to not only change the standings, but change your outlook completely. That's the September baseball.
*Although only 20,000 or so was at the game, everyone was into the action from the first inning on. This was not a crowd just waiting around for fireworks, this was a crowd that was fully invested in the game.
AL Games of Interest
- Tampa Bay (+1.0) 7, New York (-5.0) 0 - Final
- Texas (-1.0) 3, Houston 2 - Final
- Seattle 4, Kansas City (-4.0) 0 - Final
- Detroit (+4.5) 4, Minnesota 2 - Final
American League Wild Card Standings
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