July 8, 2013
I'm somewhat tempted to use this as the entire recap...
Swisher on rounding third base in the 10th: "I ate shit, dude... They had to play on the same surface though." #Indians— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) July 9, 2013
....which is a great approximation to how we feel right now. But I think this game deserves a bit more than Swisher's quote. A lot of good things happened tonight, unfortunately covered up by the blinding ugliness that was the last two innings of the game.
Scott Kazmir was signed this winter to hopefully make the team as the fifth starter. Going by that presumption, he's been fantastic in that role. Unfortunately, other pitchers in this rotation have also pitched like fifth starters, which is one reason why the bullpen is in the shape it's in. But that's a story for tomorrow. What is relevant today is that Kazmir did a bang-up job on the league's best offense, holding the Tigers to two runs in 5.2 innings. He allowed a second-inning double to Jhonny Peralta, then gave up a fourth-inning home run to Matt Tuiasosopo. He left the game in he sixth with the score tied, which considering the opposing starter was a nice feat.
Facing Kazmir this evening was Max Scherzer, he of the unblemished win-loss record.*Scherzer had dominated the Indians in his previous appearances against them this season, but he wasn't that dominant tonight. He "only" struck out seven in seven innings of work, allowing seven hits and three walks, a rather pedestrian outing by one of baseball's best pitchers.
The only scoring against Scherzer came in the second inning. The Indians pulled off a double steal in that inning, giving Lonnie Chisenhall an opportunity to drive in both with just a single. But in the midst of a very nice at-bat, the rains came in earnest, and the tarp was pulled over the infield. Chisenhall would have to wait twenty minutes to face Scherzer's 2-2 pitch, but the wait didn't both him, as hit singled on the first pitch he saw from Scherzer after the delay. The put the Indians up 2-1. After the Tuiasosopo home run in the fourth, no one would score until extra innings.
A recurring theme of the last two weeks - heck, the last two years - has been the inability of the rotation to limit the innings the bullpen has to throw. And now, with Vinnie Pestano trying to find himself, this bullpen just isn't going to hold up in any extended period of time. But the bullpen did very well, with Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Joe Smith, and Chris Perez navigating the final 3.1 innings. When Chris Perez retired the bottom of the order in order in the ninth I thought "here's their chance to win in, but if they don't, they won't get through the middle of the Detroit order again unscathed.
That made what happened in the bottom of the ninth so much more painful. They had an opportunity to win the game, tie the series, and pull the team to withing 1.5 games of the Tigers, but couldn't do it. Mark Reynolds, who had his best games in several weeks, singled to open the inning, and then was pinch-run for. With Chisenhall batting against Drew Smyly, Stubbs advanced to second on a wild pitch. Francona let Chisenhall swing away, even against a left-hander, thinking that he would be able to pull the ball and get Stubbs to third with one out. But Chisenhall instead hit a fly ball to medium-deep center, and Stubbs stayed put, not wanting to test Austin Jackson's throwing arm. Ok, I understand why you might not want to burn Chisenhall's spot in the lineup, as that meant you would lose the DH (Asdrubal Cabrera) and move Aviles to third if the game went into extra innings. But I didn't understand why Francona didn't pinch-hit Carlos Santana for Yan Gomes, as that would have been a catcher for catcher. But Francona let Gomes bat, and Gomes struck out. Michael Bourn flew out to end the threat.
That meant Matt Albers would have to face the top of the Tiger order. Although Albers retired both Jackson and Torii Hunter, he walked both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, then left a breaking pitch in the middle of the plate to Victor Martinez, who drove the ball just out of Michael Bourn's reach in deep center, giving Detroit a 4-2 lead.
The Indians made it interesting in the ninth, but again Francona didn't pinch-hit when the situation required it. With two outs and two on, wouldn't you rather have Carlos Santana or even Jason Giambi batting with the game on the line than Mike Aviles? Yes, Santana was warming up on deck to bat for Stubbs, but why not use Santana for Aviles, and if it came to it, Giambi for Stubbs? But neither Santana nor Giambi would get a chance, for Aviles struck out to end the game.
*Now over the eight or so years I've been here, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've referred to pitcher's win-loss record with full seriousness...and this won't be one of those times. Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but like with Cliff Lee in 2008, that record merely happens to match how good Scherzer has been. If you start for the Detroit Tigers, you're going to win games whether you pitch like Max Scherzer or David Huff, because the Tigers score lots and lots of runs. A pitching win is more of a team stat nowadays than an individual stat.
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