August 28, 2013
A couple days ago, I saw an interesting stat: the Indians had given up just one walkoff hit the entire season, which ranked best in the league. As Jordan Shafer slid into home plate, of course that tidbit immediately came to mind. Another nugget, mentioned on the radio broadcast: the Indians were 24-15 in one-run games. I remembered that one as the final score flashed on the screen. Perhaps it's part of rooting for teams that routinely experience heartbreak, but I always get a bit nervous when I see those good stats bandied about. If the Indians are destined to lose in agonizing ways (so the internal narrative goes), then how can that strength be turned into a weakness in as brutally efficient a manner as possible?
This was a game on paper that the Indians should have won easy. You had Justin Masterson, the club ace, going up against Paul Maholm, the Braves' fifth starter. Maholm had really gotten hit around of late, allowing at least four runs in each of his four previous starts, so if there was a time for the Tribe offense to get going, it would be here. Only it didn't. The Indians once again got a decent supply of hits and walks, but couldn't make much of them. Until the eighth inning their only tally came on Mike Aviles' solo homer in the fourth inning. Two double plays were killers, one coming in the third after Justin Masterson (not a typo) and Michael Bourn led off the inning with singles. Masterson almost tied the game in the fourth, hitting a sinking liner into shallow right field, but Jordan Schafer (yes, him again) made an outstanding catch to end the inning.
Masterson, like Danny Salazar the night before, allowed two runs in the second inning and had to throw a lot of pitches just to keep the damage to that much. Command was a problem early for Justin, and perhaps it was due to six days' rest since his last start. But after getting out of the second, he settled down and got the Indians through six innings. Two runs on most nights should be enough for your team to win, but for the second night in a row, it wasn't.
The Indians would tie the game in the eighth, with Mike Aviles once again driving in the run. The Indians loaded the bases with one out against Luis Avilan, one of the best relievers in baseball. Aviles hit a ball that Jordan Schafer ran down in the corner, but it was more than deep enough to plate Nick Swisher from third. Jason Kipnis, who was on second, tagged and went to third, and Asdrubal Cabrera stayed at first. Cabrera would then attempt to steal second with Michael Brantley at the plate, but for some reason stopped halfway between first and second, thinking that Brantley had fouled the ball off. It turned out that Brantley had fouled it, but into the mitt of Brian McCann. Cabrera was hung out to dry, and Brantley, who had gone 2-for-3 at that point, wouldn't get a chance to give the Indians the lead. Perhaps Brantley would have made the third out, but we'll never know, will we?
Bryan Shaw pitched a scoreless seventh, Shaw, Rich Hill, and Joe Smith combined to keep the Braves off the board in the eighth, and Joe Smith was sent out for the ninth after Craig Kimbrel blew away the Indians in the top of the inning. Jordan Schafer hit a sharp single through the right side of the infield with one out, then stole second barely ahead of Carlos Santana's strong throw. After Justin Upton flew out to center, Smith intentionally walked Freddie Freeman to bring up Chris Johnson. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Johnson lined a single between short and third, and Michael Brantley's throw was not in time to get Shafer at the plate.
With the A's declawing the Tigers this week, the Indians have not only missed an opportunity to gain ground on Detroit in preparation for their weekend series in the Motor City, but are now four games behind the A's for the second wild card. And when you lose like the Indians have lost these past two games, those missed opportunities to gain or maintain ground in the playoff races becomes that much more irritating.
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|Joe M Fox