Indians 29-30, Red Sox 27-31
Bryan Shaw was unavailable tonight (and honestly he shouldn't have even pitched last night, either), so Terry Francona had to get creative. Fortunately he had at his disposable the right player for the situation, a player that just so happened to be making his 2014 debut.
But before we get into the late-game strategy, let's talk about TJ House and his start. House was making his third start in the big leagues, and will probably get at least one more before Zach McAllister comes off the DL. House is the eighth pitcher to start a game for the Indians, and for most clubs, the eighth starter on the depth chart is bordering on replacement level. The Red Sox hadn't seen House before, so that certainly helped, but even so, Tiger Junior had to make some high-leverage pitches to get out of some tricky situations, and he did just that. In the first inning, House allowed the first two batters to reach, bringing up Boston's fearsome duo of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. The game could have gotten away from him right there, but he didn't make any egregious mistakes. Pedroia lined out to center, David Ortiz grounded out to second (in what would have been an inning-ending double play had the infield been aligned normally) and struck out Johnny Gomes to end the threat. He got out of another jam in the second by inducing an inning-ending double play. After allowing a Xander Bogaerts home run in the third, he got out of another mini-jam. And then he had a couple quick innings, pitched into the sixth, and left with a 3-1 lead. You'll certainly take that from any starting pitcher, never mind a rookie who had been forced into the rotation.
Meanwhile the Tribe offense mirrored Monday's game in that they jumped on Boston's starter early and did virtually nothing after that against him. The first five Indians to come to the plate reached against Jake Peavy, and the Tribe took a 3-0 lead. But after that first inning, Peavy shut down the offense. He allowed a Yan Gomes infield single (which happened because he couldn't cleanly field a comebacker to the mound), and then retired the next fourteen Cleveland batters. The streak finally ended in the sixth when Lonnie Chisenhall singled back up the middle (on the tenth pitch of the at-bat).
Peavy had kept his team in the game, and the Red Sox capitalized in the seventh. They had squeezed a run across in the sixth, and tied the game in the seventh after Bogaerts and Pedroia doubled to start the inning. Scott Atchison, who gave up both hits, then intentionally walked David Ortiz and got Johnny Gomes to hit an infield popup.
That's where a little roster move made at the beginning of the series paid off. The Red Sox currently have a very left-handed heavy lineup, and tonight had stocked their lineup with as many right-handed hitters as they could against the southpaw House. So when Nick Hagadone came into the game, manager John Farrell had no choice but to allow those right-handed bench players to face Hagadone. Of course the strategy would have failed if Hagadone couldn't locate the ball. But tonight Hagadone was on his game, having enough to control to make his outstanding stuff work for him. Nick has tweaked his slider, throwing it almost at changeup speed, and had Red Sox hitters either swinging too early on it or giving up on it altogether. In the seventh he struck out AJ Pierzynski and Alex Hassan, getting the Indians out of another jam.
In the bottom of the seventh, after David Murphy walked and Yan Gomes singled, Mike Aviles bunted too strongly, and Murphy was forced out at third. Farrell then brought in a left-hander of his own. Andrew Miller, who once was one of the key pieces in the Miguel Cabrera trade, but has recently found a niche as a dominating reliever. The first batter he faced was Michael Bourn, and even though Bourn has been hitting as well lately as he has in his entire Cleveland tenure, you certainly didn't like the matchup. The Red Sox pulled left fielder Johnny Gomes in, betting that if Bourn did hit a ball to the outfield, it would be a bloop and not a blast. But Bourn hit a blast, and the slow-footed Gomes couldn't catch up to it. The ball short-hopped the left-field fence, and by the time the ball came back to the infield both runners scored and the Indians once again had the lead.
Even with a two-run lead, Terry Francona stuck with Hagadone to start eighth. To some extent he didn't have a choice, as Bryan Shaw was unavailable, but still, going with Nick for a second inning, even though the matchups were favorable, isn't something that you'd expect. Had Hagadone imploded, as he's done several times in the past, Francona certainly would have been blamed for the unconventional move. But Francona's faith in the minor-league reports was rewarded, as Hagadone retired two of the three batters he faced, allowing Francona to go to Cody Allen without using any other setup men. Allen faced the dangerous Bogaerts, inducing a fly ball on the second pitch of the at-bat, so in the ninth Allen came into the inning a rested pitcher. He got Pedroia to hit a lazy fly ball (throwing a nasty curve that had Dustin out on his front foot), and induced a fly ball from Ortiz on a fastball that the Boston DH couldn't get on top of. Then, LGFT Grady Sizemore pinch-hit for Gomes, and Allen faced the former Tribe superstar with two outs in the ninth for the second straight night. This time Sizemore struck out on a curve in the dirt, and after Yan Gomes threw to first to complete the out, the Indians clinched their fifth straight win, a season-high.
With Detroit losing to Toronto, the Indians, just weeks falling 10.5 games behind the Tigers, are now just 4.5 games behind them, and just one game below .500. And if the White Sox lose to the Dodgers tonight, the Indians will have sole possession of second place in the division. Of course back then the Indians didn't have TJ House or Nick Hagadone on the roster, did they?
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