July 26, 2013
After four innings, it looked like the Indians would enjoy an easy victory along the lines of Wednesday's 10-1 win in Seattle. But it wasn't to be.
Corey Kluber made his first start after leaving early on July 20th with a sore hamstring. And while he did go six innings, he didn't look sharp, having to rely on some BABIP fortune to get out of some innings. He only struck out three, quite a low number for a pitcher with an 8.8 H/9 ratio, but did leave with a 7-4 lead, a lead that most MLB bullpens should be able to preserve.
The reason Kluber left with a lead was because the Tribe bats jumped on Texas starter Martin Perez. The young left-hander is one of the Rangers' best prospects, though he's been forced into the rotation thanks to a rash of pitching injuries that would have devastated most clubs. However, the Rangers have had enough pitching depth to keep their heads above water. But they recently sent several of their better prospects to Chicago to rent Matt Garza, not trusting what they currently had to last the rest of the season. And after watch Perez tonight, I agree. While the 22-year-old Perez will eventually become an excellent starter, he's not there yet, making mistake after mistake to the Tribe hitters. Nick Swisher struck the first blow in the first inning on an home run over the wall in left and the Indians didn't let up. Two wild pitches led to two runs in the second, and the Indians knocked him in out in the fourth with four runs, the final blow a two-run single by Michael Bourn.
Bad defense has been a common theme since the second half began, and unfortunately the trend continued. Kluber was his own worst enemy in the third inning, grabbing a sharp comebacker but throwing wildly to second in an attempt to start a double play. And when Leonys Martin hit a fly ball to medium-deep left field, it looked like Mitch Moreland would be tagged out at the plate, but Moreland was able to jar the ball loose from Santana. Santana was charged with an error because Elvis Andrus was able to advance to third base, though I don't really fault him for that. There's plenty of other opportunities to criticize Santana, though.
After Kluber left, the Indians had a four-run lead to work with, and their bullpen completely rested thanks to Kazmir's gem on Wednesday and the off-day on Thursday. But the usually-effective Cody Allen couldn't get through the seventh, having to be rescued from further damage by Rich Hill. After the seventh what was once a 7-1 lead was how an 8-6 lead. And that lead wouldn't last long. With runners on first and second, Leonys Martin laid a bad bunt, but instead of making the relatively easy play at third, Joe Smith instead opted to go to first base. And that decision would come back to haunt the Indians. Joe Smith grooved a pitch to Ian Kinsler on a 0-2 count, and the Texas second baseman shot the ball through the right side of the infield, scoring two and tying the game. What once seemed like an insurmountable lead was not insurmountable after all, and should give a further impetus to Chris Antonetti to improve the bullpen, whether it be via the minors or via trade.
Chris Perez then saved the day, going a season-high two innings and getting the game into the eleventh inning. Perez has quietly been the Tribe's best reliever since the beginning of July, and his five-pitch ninth allowed Terry Francona to send him out for the tenth.
Carlos Santana almost cost the Indians the lead in the top of the eleventh. With a runner on first, Bryan Shaw struck out Engel Beltre with a slider in the dirt, but Santana let the ball get clean to the backstop, and Martin (the runner at first) was able to go all the way to third. Shaw was able to retire Nelson Cruz to end the inning, taking Carlos off the hook. Santana had a brutal night behind the plate, and with Yan Gomes playing well of late, you wonder if he'll be getting more and more time behind the plate instead of Santana.
Meanwhile Jason Frasor pitched the ninth, tenth, and came out for the eleventh. Perhaps Texas manager Ron Washington did this because he didn't want to burn the bullpen for the rest of the series, though Frasor hadn't gone more than 1.2 innings this season, nevermind 3 innings. The Indians took full advantage of their good fortune, with Asdrubal Cabrera and Santana both serving singles into the outfield. Next up was Ryan Raburn, and the Rangers anticipated a sacrifice bunt. They put on the wheel play, a play in which the infielders rotate around the infield to set up a force at third or second. But Raburn was told to swing away if that happened, and after taking the first two pitches of the at-bat, he swung away on the 1-1 pitch, and the result made any bunt attempt a distant memory.
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