September 4, 2013
I don't think it's hyperbole to say that this was the biggest win of the season. Had the Indians lost, they would have fell 1.5 games behind the Orioles, 2 games behind the Yankees, and perhaps 4.5 games behind the Rays. And they could have tied with the Royals. It's one thing to be 4.5 games back with 3.5 weeks of baseball to play, but being behind 3 teams and tied with a fourth is quite another. Now the Indians can very easily stumble this weekend against the Mets and find themselves in the same predicament, but at least today they've put themselves in a decent position to make a run. They have 6 games against Kansas City coming up, and they can push the Royals out of the race. And with the Rays, Yankees, and Orioles all playing each other down the stretch, the Indians will have opportunities to make up ground.
For the first half of the game, this looked like it was going to be an easy Indians victory. Zach Britton, who was making his first start in the big leagues since early July, was touched for four runs in the first inning, with the big hits coming from players who started the season either on the bench or in the minors. Michael Bourn led off the game with an infield single, Nick Swisher walked, and Jason Kipnis laid down a perfect bunt for a single to load the bases. But Carlos Santana struck out, leaving you wondering if the Indians would blow yet another opportunity to score. Yan Gomes removed those fears, though, as he lined a solid single the other way, getting the Indians on the board. After Asdrubal Cabrera hit into a force out, Ryan Raburn, who was playing in his first game since August 18th, turned the one-run inning into a big inning, doubling down the right field line to bring home two runs. Mike Aviles capped the inning with a single through the left side. Raburn was thrown out at the plate, but before a fourth run scored.
The game seemed set up nicely for McAllister and the Indians. Cleveland had an off day on Thursday, so they could use all their key bullpen arms if needed. Meanwhile, Baltimore had to play on Thursday against the Red Sox, so they had to use their arms wisely. Buck Showalter pulled Britton in the third, inserting Kevin Gausman, one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. Gausman, whose pitches broke downward and sat in the upper 90s, dispatched Cabrera and Raburn to end the third, then retired the Indians in order in the fourth when a botched bunt led to a double play. Meanwhile McAllister had given up some loud outs, and had given up a solo homer, but seemed to be in decent heading to the fifth with a 4-1 lead.
But the game changed in the fifth. JJ Hardy doubled with one out, and Brian Roberts walked with two outs, bringing up phenom Manny Machado. McAllister looked like he had Machado struck out on an outside corner fastball, but home plate umpire Mike DiMuro (whose strike zone was at times small and large) called the pitch a ball. A couple pitches later, McAllister threw belt-high fastball that Machado crushed over the fence in center field. The Orioles had tied the game. It was a home run that could have easily began a meltdown, but Bryan Shaw got the Indians out of the fifth, and the Orioles wouldn't score again.
Gausman came out for the bottom of the fifth, Showalter trying to squeeze another inning out of him. But it wouldn't work. After Nick Swisher grounded out, Kipnis (single) and Santana (walk) reached base, bringing up Yan Gomes. And for the second time, Gomes came through with a big hit. He line a ball past Machado down the left field line, scoring Kipnis and pushing Santana to third. Gausman intentionally walked Asdrubal Cabrera to load the bases, but that gambit failed after a wild pitch brought Santana home from third. Gausman limited the damage to two runs, but the Indians now had the lead with four innings to go.
The bullpen, which has at times been a weakness, really showed up tonight. Bryan Shaw went an inning, Cody Allen went 1.1 innings, and Joe Smith and Chris Perez retired the Orioles in order in their innings. It was an impressive showing given how dangerous the Baltimore lineup is. The lineup the Indians faced tonight is probably the best they'll see the rest of season.
Unless the Rays lose tonight in LA, the Indians won't gain a game on anyone else ahead of them in the wild card race. But with tonight's win the Indians jumped ahead of Orioles, and find themselves still in the thick of the race. They've now won three out of their last four, and it couldn't have come at a better time. They end their brutal nine-game stretch with a 3-6 record, but that looks pretty good considering where they stood on Sunday afternoon. There's still many tests in front of the Indians between now and the finish line, but at least they're still in the race.
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