Cleveland improves to 53-59
CC Sabathia this season has a gigantic platoon split, with right-handers batting .326/.367/542 against him, while left-handers are hitting an anemic .186/.216/.297. And so tonight's lineup didn't feature Michael Brantley, last night's hero, or Lonnie Chisenhall. And Yan Gomes, who caught all 16 innings the night before, was given the night off. So of the nine starters, only three (Jose Ramirez, Mike Aviles, Carlos Santana) were on the 25-man roster on Opening Day. There was a method to Terry Francona's seeming madness; the Indians did reach base 11 times off Sabathia. But time after time hitters let Sabathia off the hook, and the former Tribe pitcher got through six innings and only allowed two runs. Sabathia, who arrived on the scene with a fastball registering in the upper 90s, pitched away from contact, relying on changeups in hitters counts. He made several mistakes, but the Tribe batters didn't take advantage of them.
The Indians won anyway, thanks to stellar pitching. Danny Salazar pitched like the young Sabathia, living up in the strike zone with his upper 90s fastball. Danny walked five New York hitters, but struck out eight of them, and most importantly pitched into the eighth inning. Before the game Terry Francona perhaps thought his best-case scenario would be to only use Salazar and Cody Allen tonight, as he'd used all of his bullpen the night before. With no off days for the next two weeks, the only way the bullpen could get a day's rest is if the starter went the distance. The next best thing to that complete game would be using the starter and only one reliever, and that's what Francona did. When Salazar got into a jam in the eighth (first and second, one out), Cody Allen came into the game. It was a move that many MLB managers wouldn't make, but I think Francona made it because he thinks so much about keeping his bullpen fresh. And given how Bryan Shaw looked last night, you'd rather go with Allen for five outs than risk not even getting to use him at all. Allen got Alex Rodriguez to ground into a double to end the eighth, then plowed through the heart of the Yankee order in the ninth (he had to face four batters because Brian McCann reached on a dropped third strike). Now for tomorrow's game every reliever except Cody Allen will be pitching on a day's rest.
Even though the Indians scored just two runs, there were some standout offensive performances. Francisco Lindor, who was four years old when the Indians drafted Sabathia in 1998, put together two excellent at-bats against the New York left-hander; one came in the third inning, when he worked a walk after a lengthy at-bat. The rally was later diffused when Chris Johnson hit into an innning-ending double play. The second at-bat came in the fifth inning, under identical circumstances, and this time Lindor laced an outside pitch into right field to tie the game. Johnson again would quell the rally with a double play. In the sixth the Indians took the lead when Abraham Almonte singled in Carlos Santana. The team could have easily scored four or five runs off Sabathia had those runs been followed up with one more hit, but thanks to Salazar and Allen, those two runs were all they needed.
With the loss, the Yankees fall into second in the AL East, which means that they are now the leading Wild Card team, two games ahead of the Angels and four games ahead of Tampa Bay. The Indians, who are still six games under .500, are only six games back but have six teams between them and the Angels. Even so, they're playing their best baseball of the year, with a pitching staff that can dominate any lineup and an infield defense that complements the pitching.
Win Probability Chart
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