May 12, 2013
Chapter 34: Only 27 outs
Given how the Indians have treated Cy Young winners this season, I suppose you could have expected the Indians to crush Justin Verlander. But I don't think even the most optimistic Tribe fan expected this. Verlander after the game admitted that he went out to the mound with poor stuff, but the Indians took advantage of it through patience and through pitch recognition. For one night, Verlander was your ordinary low-90s fastball/changeup/curve pitcher. Actually, you'd probably want to reverse the order of those pitches, because he threw more changeups (43) than fastballs (42). The changeups were not only easier to lay off because the difference in velocity wasn't all that much (~93 mph vs ~87 mph), but also because he couldn't throw those changeups in the strike zone. In the first inning, after the Indians took a 1-0 lead on Nick Swisher's double, he walked Jason Giambi with the bases loaded to force home another run. All in all, he walked three batters in the inning, and had to throw 35 pitches just to get out of it.
Last night was quite a role reversal, as the pitcher you'd think of having the first inning Verlander had was slicing and dicing through a difficult lineup without many complications. Ubaldo Jimenez, who until two weeks ago had been the king of high pitch counts and short outings, had his third straight solid (or better) outing, this time against a very good lineup. The Tigers rank in the top three in the AL in most important offensive categories, and like most good AL lineups, there's not many easy outs in their lineup. But Jimenez commanded his fastball, and that allowed his array of offspeed pitches to become relevant in at-bats. His splitter worked a lot better when thrown in an 0-2 or 1-2 count, and a high four-seamer became something Tiger batters had to swing at. Getting ahead of hitters is of course a good course of action for any pitcher, but for the past 1.5 seasons, no pitcher more needed to heed that simple advice than Jimenez. Ubaldo still has more than enough stuff to rack up nights like last night, but because he couldn't throw strike one, all those pitches with insane movement were spit on because hitters had some strikes to play with. Jimenez ended his evening allowing just one run (a solo homer by LGFT Jhonny Peralta in the third), striking out eight and walking just one batter. A good Ubaldo Jimenez means good things for this team.
Meanwhile the Indians kept picking at the suddenly-human Verlander. Normally robo-Verlander might have a difficult first inning, only to get locked in after that. To a point he did, but by that time the Indians had scored three runs and had forced him to thrown a very large amount of pitches. In the second inning Jason Kipnis scored from first on a double down the right field line on a dangerous headfirst slide at the plate, scoring just ahead of Alex Avila's tag.
(many thanks to Justin Higgins for the GIF)
Verlander would settle down after that inning to some extent, but he had already thrown 62 pitches just to get through 2 innings. The Indians landed the knockout blow in the fifth inning, scoring a fourth run (which marked the highest run total of the season for Verlander) but also forcing him to throw another 19 pitches. The normally unhittable Verlander was done after five innings, having given up four runs (three earned) on six hits and five walks. He had thrown 110 pitches.
The offense tacked on runs in the sixth and seventh innings, and it's a good thing they did, for the Cleveland bullpen was also human. Nick Hagadone and Cody Allen combined to give up four runs in the bottom of the seventh, the big hit being a two-run triple by Omar Infante. What looked like a relatively easy last third of the game going into the bottom seventh turned out to be the most nerve-wracking game of the season.
The Indians scored another run in the eighth when Jason Giambi drove home Jason Kipnis with a sacrifice fly. That insurance run, which made the score 7-5, would very much be necessary. Because in the ninth inning, an error by Nick Swisher (he just plain dropped a throw from third) opened the door for the Tigers to mount a furious rally. After the one-out error, Infante singled, then Austin Jackson hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Had that gone through, that would have scored a run, making it 7-6 with one out and with the heart of the order coming up. But not only did Jason Kipnis get to the ball, he somehow flipped it behind his back to Asdrubal Cabrera, and if Cabrera had made an accurate throw to first (granted, he had to deal with a runner taking him out), the game would have ended right then and there on an amazing double play. (See Bless You Boys for the GIF of the play from two angles) But the throw was wide, and the game continued, much to the detriment of our nerves.Then Torii Hunter singled through the right side, scoring Brayan Pena from third and setting up first and third for...gulp...Miguel Cabrera.
If you were watching or listening to the game, most likely a sense of dread overwhelmed you at this point. In his career Cabrera was 4-for-8 against Chris Perez, including a game-winning home run. And obviously Perez wasn't pitching that well. But Perez did get ahead of the 2012 MVP with two very nice pitches on the outside corner. But then he missed on the next three, and then you started thinking about bases loaded with Prince Fielder at the plate, also not a great situation to say the least. But on the payoff pitch Cabrera hit a weak grounder to third, and this time Swisher caught the ball for the 27th out. And thankfully there are only 27 outs in a baseball game.