Indians improve to 70-50 (20 games above .500!)
Life was better than art tonight. The ending of tonight’s game was more than just an imitation of an inspirational finale; it surpassed what even the most creative mind would have conjured up.
But let’s not forget about the buildup to the ninth inning, for this was an exhilarating game even before that, which made the ending that much more compelling There was a boisterous atmosphere right from the beginning, with quite a few Blue Jays fans mingled in among the sellout crowd. As soon as the game opened, the Toronto faithful began chanting "Let’s Go Jays," the Cleveland fans drowned them out with boos, and after that Progressive Field felt like an October game.
Trevor Bauer started the game off poorly, falling behind 2-0 after Russell Martin swatted a meh fastball over the left field wall. That home run would be the last time the Blue Jays scored, thanks in most part to what Bauer did after Martin’s blast. He was impeccable the rest of his start, locking up hitters with a fantastic curve, or fooling them with a two-seam fastball that would leak over the inside corner of the plate, or perhaps getting them to swing awkwardly at a changeup when they thought they were seeing the heater. He would strike out 13 Toronto batters (a career high), and what’s more, would accomplish this over the course of eight innings. And he’d do it despite having to deal with Mike Estabrook's chaotic strike zone.
While Bauer was dominating, the Indians were flailing away against Francisco Liriano. A decade ago, Liriano was a wunderkind for the Minnesota Twins, but several arm injuries later he appeared in Cleveland as a pitcher getting by based on his history and not a whole lot else. The Pirates dumped him at the trading deadline, having thrown in some prospects to induce the Jays to take him. The Liriano the Indians faced tonight is now a pitcher who relies on hitters to chase his pitches, and more often than not, the hitters don’t chase them; he came into tonight’s game having walked 73 batters in 125.1 innings. But the Indians seemed more aggressive than usual, chasing the back foot sliders and changeups out of the strike zone. This at-bat sticks in my mind as emblematic of Liriano’s outing tonight: Abraham Almonte saw four pitches, all out of the strike zone (though one was called a strike), striking out on a pitch that was several feet below the zone.
The Indians did break through against Liriano, though it was mostly the Toronto defense that was the cause of it. Jason Kipnis was on first base when Russell Martin was handcuffed by a pitch. Kipnis took off, but would have been out had Devon Travis simply caught the ball. But instead of running into an out, Kipnis ended up at third base, and would later come home on an RBI single by Mike Napoli.
After Francisco Liriano departed, the Jays sent in two pitchers very familiar to Indians fans. The first was Joaquin Benoit, who most Tribe fans will remember as a Tiger, and Jason Grilli, also a former Tiger, pitched the eighth. In both cases, the Indians failed to score, and it looked very much like that two-run homer in the first inning would stand up for Toronto. This recap then might have included a reference to Aesop’s fox, who scoffed at a bunch of grapes he had tried his best to reach. But there will be no sour grapes in this recap.
Enter Roberto Osuna, Toronto’s closer. The Indians were now facing one of the better closers in baseball, and it was looking like Trevor Bauer’s amazing start would all be for nought. After Carlos Santana ground out, and Jose Ramirez fell behind 0-2 on another questionable Estabrook call, that this came would end in frustration seemed even more certain.
But then this happened:
Jose Ramirez had struck out twice tonight, a rare occurrence, but he more than made up it. And then this happened:
The gamut of emotions in 15 seconds. First, the elation of what looked like home run, then the disappointment when it looked like it might be caught, then satisifaction that Naquin would be in scoring position, then surprise that Melvin Upton somehow forgot that he was playing a baseball game (and had neglected to actually be anywhere near right-center field), then the realization that Naquin might actually score...
The inside-the-park walkoff home run is a very rare ending to game, almost as rare as a walkoff balk. The last time the Indians won in this fashion was 100 years ago almost to the day, when Braggo Roth beat the St. Louis Browns in League Park:
From the above recap:
The joy of the Indians was but a sample of that displayed by the 18,000 rooters who were present. All they did was to cheer themselves hoarse, tear up their score cards, toss their hats in the air and then go away forgetting wraps, canes, etc in their excitement.
I very much hope that no one at the ballpark tonight forgot their cane. But I wouldn't blame them in the slightest.