Indians lead ALDS, 1-0
Tonight’s game was just a single game in a long playoff series and in an even longer season, but it was revolutionary. Roberto Perez revolutionized the way people think about him, Terry Francona revolutionized how you use your best reliever in an important game, and Tyler Naquin revolutionized the ability to use an outfielder in a playoff game.
Perez’s impact came in the top of the first inning with a huge tag at home to end the half-inning. One run ended up scoring off of Hanley Ramirez’s bomb to center field, but Brock Holt was caught following an awkward throw by Tyler Naquin, a great relay throw by Francisco Lindor, and an even better tag by Roberto.
The Tribe catcher would not get a chance to prove himself further until the third inning, but boy did he. Leading off the frame, Roberto homered. Then, two batters later, Jason Kipnis homered. Then, the next batter, Francisco Lindor, homered. The only thing preventing three-straight home runs was Carlos Santana grounding out, but still. Three home runs in a single inning off a legitimate Cy Young candidate in Rick Porcello.
Maybe Perez’s biggest play, coming off maybe his most overlooked attribute, was extremely savvy base-running in the fifth inning. After Roberto singled off of Rick Porcello, Santana flied out (again). Perez, noticing that rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi was lazily fielding the ball and he took off for second after the catch. The next batter hit a ball that would have normally stranded Roberto at third, but thanks to his great base-running he was able to come home from second.
I feel like the national media was intently focused on the Indians pitching staff coming into this game — as they should be — but maybe they should have taken a glimpse at this Indians offense. They had some dry spells in the regular season, but they have shown time and time again the ability to absolutely explode for a few games in a row. From one to nine, this lineup is too talented to be able to consistently exploited. And when you do manage to find an advantage, Terry Francona will usually find a way to negate it.
In tonight’s case, Francona’s brilliance came through with his bullpen usage. It’s something we have pointed to in the past as a key to this series (and the playoffs at large), and it came into play in Game 1. Tito turned to Andrew Miller in the fifth with two outs — the earliest Miller has appeared in any game this season. And then he just kept pitching, and pitching, and pitching. The first couple batters were rough for Miller, a double from Brock Holt and a walk of Mookie Betts, but once he settled in he just got nasty. Over 2.0 innings, Miller finished with four strikeouts, one walk, and one hit. Francona’s creativity continued with Cody Allen, who was used for a five-out save and topped 40 pitches, well over his previous season-high of 37.
Roberto Perez and Andrew Miller grabbed everyone’s imagination with this game, but Jose Ramirez quietly struck fear into the Red Sox pitchers. His first at-bat was a double to lead off the second inning, the first Indians hit of the game. Red Sox manager John Farrell wanted nothing to do with The Angry Hamster and his clutch hitting — he intentionally walked Ramirez to load the bases in the fifth inning. The move was a good one, as it led to a lefty-lefty matchup between Drew Pomeranz and the platoon bat of Lonnie Chisenhall. Maybe a little too predictably, Chisenhall struck out and the inning ended.
If there was one thing to regret about this game, it was Tito’s reluctance to pull the trigger on a pinch hitter. Maybe he read too much into Pomeranz’s bad first inning of the game and wanted to avoid the Red Sox pulling him, or maybe he just did not have faith in Brandon Guyer tonight for some reason. But no matter, Guyer sat on the bench while several bad matchups went by un-platooned.
The Indians absolutely needed Game 1. It was evident in Tito’s reliance on the bullpen to throw so many pitches — more than starting pitcher Trevor Bauer threw, in fact. With Corey Kluber going tomorrow, the Tribe really need a solid seven or more innings of work out of their ace.
One down, two to go.