In tonight's 5-1 loss against the Rays, the Cleveland Indians showed some of their best and their worst attributes.
Corey Kluber commanded the game from the start, showing the pinpoint control and cruel breaking ball to which fans have grown accustomed. It seemed as though the first pitch of every at-bat just scraped the black while tailing away at 92 mph. On opening day, this ability to start ahead in an at-bat eluded him. The radio crew wondered early on whether or not the cold was to blame for this difference; it's more difficult to grip anything when you can't feel it at all. However, as Hamilton noted, "It's not like Kluber would ever admit that," underlining the starter's stoicism.
With a home run in the top of the fourth — one that just barely escaped the glove of Kevin Kaiermairer — Francisco Lindor continued to prove that his skill at the plate is no fluke. While it's still early in the season, Lindor is 7 for 19 and has drawn a couple of walks against three strikeouts. If he can continue provide a steady presence, then the top of the order will become quite interesting for the Tribe once Michael Brantley returns. More on Brantley's absence later...
Mike Napoli made two hustle plays today. In the fourth, Carlos Santana lifted a long fly ball to right. Napoli tagged up and darted toward second and nearly snuck in under the tag. Later in the game, he elected to run down and catch a foul ball that became dead when it bounced off the Tropicana Field catwalk. These plays might seem a bit insignificant, but the Indians aren't going to win The Whole Damn Thing unless they play as aggressive as Napoli has so far this season. He doesn't relent, and while I have no measure of the effect one player can have on a team, I hope that the rest of the players follow Napoli's example. He's proved to be the most tenacious at the plate. Tonight, he logged another long at-bat that might have been even longer if Steven Souza hadn't flipped around like a maniac to catch the ball in foul ground.
Finally, we saw the continued improvements of the Tribe's infield defense. The double play turned in the bottom of the sixth wouldn't have been fathomable with the opening day infield from last season. I don't know if it's something that will happen again, but I'd love to see some more 3-5-1 double plays from this team. If only Napoli to Uribe to Kluber had the same cadence as Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Meanwhile, Yan Gomes gunned down another would-be base stealer in the game, and almost did it again when Kiermaier bolted in the 8th.
Somewhere between coach pitch and kid's pitch, a coach drilled the following into my brain: "Unless you are abso-#$%^ing-lutely sure that the ball will land in front of you, your first step in the outfield should never be forward." I just assumed that middle-aged men shouted this at children all over the world. My understanding is that it's still fundamentally-sound fielding technique. At the very least, you hold your ground until you get a good read on the ball. So it goes. It's tricky, learning a new position. I think it's admirable that Jose Ramirez is doing whatever he can to help the team. It won't show up in the box score as an error, but Ramirez's miscue broke the Tribe's rhythm tonight. It is definitely a ball that Brantley would have been waiting for, patiently.
Kluber was threatening to pitch a Maddux up until that point. Why is it that horrific things happen when Kluber is chasing an achievement late in a game? And dear god why does it only get worse the better that potential accomplishment is? THIS BROKE UP A PERFECT GAME BID. I have no words. I have. I just. No. Make it stop. Also, I'm starting to feel like Josh and Toby from the West Wing in the middle of Indiana every time I see a Kluber start with fewer than two runs. Can we have an offense when our best starter takes the mound?
This led to the most interesting moment of the game, I think: Terry Francona's decision to let Kluber try to finish the 8th inning. Kluber pitched so well up until the eighth that it still looked like he could hurl a complete game and notch a win on the road. Then, those two-seamers that scooted over the edge of the plate at the beginning of the game started to sway into the batters box. I don't think Tito planned to use Kluber in the ninth; after all, Cody Allen already began warming up after
Kaisermayor Kiermaier drew a walk.
I wonder, though, if you shouldn't have a reliever ready before that. It's impossible to know that Logan Fortsythe will get a belt-high fastball over the middle of the plate, but it's obvious that a starter who is missing his spots in a tie game with nearly 100 pitches thrown is vulnerable. I don't know what the right decision is here. It's made even muddier by the fact that Allen gave up another two run home run shortly after. Maybe either way, Tito wouldn't have been able to hold on to the game.
The Indians have two more against the Rays this week, so they can still escape the dome with a winning record. Even if they don't, the good news is they've beaten up the Rays' mascot already.
Top Tweets from Indians Twitter:
— Nick Camino (@NickCaminoWTAM) April 13, 2016
— CLE Sports Dreams (@clesportsdreams) April 13, 2016
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Maybe next time, Windians?