Today’s close examination is a little bit different than our previous installments. Since joining Let’s Go Tribe I’ve not missed very many Indians games, so I will often make note of unusual or fantastic plays as they happen.
Last night, I had no idea that the Indians won on a walk-off inside-the-park hyphenated-masterpiece until close to 20 minutes after it happened. I'd been otherwise engaged for the evening with my phone off, and when I flipped it back on I noticed a series of semi-coherent texts from my mother, who happened to have tickets for the game.
I thought I hurt myself screaming and jumping!!!
There were some obnoxious Blue Jays fans behind us who ragged on us all game and said it was over. Ha ha ha! They flew away pretty quickly.
Knowing something excellent must have happened, I opened up the MLB At Bat app on the corner of Ashland and Irving Park and watched the play unfold in all of its glory.
I would like to apologize to various Chicago citizens and business owners for the lunatic shouting and jumping in the middle of Lakeview yesterday evening.
Before we dive too deeply into the play, we have to acknowledge of couple of things:
1) Naquin's heroics stand firmly on the shoulders of Trevor Bauer, who completely shut down the Blue Jays after giving up a two-run dinger in the first inning.
2) Jose Ramirez hit a blast of his own in the at-bat before Naquin to tie the game.
Now, a close examination of Nakey Time
Naquin entered the game as a pinch-hitter once again. If you remember, he hit a walk-off sacrifice fly when he pinch-hit for Roberto Perez Thursday night. Friday, he replaced Brandon Guyer in the 7th inning for the matchup, as Joaquin Benoit replaced Francisco Liriano. This season especially, Guyer mashes left-handed pitchers (.345/.476/.595) and typically struggles against righties (.218/.297/.340). Did the substitution pay off immediately? No. He struck out swinging, but remained in the game at CF, pushing Rajai Davis to LF.
When Naquin finally strolled to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with one out, game tied, he saw the following pitches:
Pitches 1-3 were a mix of Marcel "the Shelled" Osuna's four and two-seam fastballs. Then, Osuna threw a couple of sliders, searching for a strikeout. The first (pitch 4) is well-placed, and Naquin nearly struck out on the pitch. He just barely tapped the offering, which rolled to the backstop. Osuna came back with the same on pitch five and it floated closer to the center of the plate. This time, Naquin squared on it and launched it to deep right field.
"I kinda took a couple steps out of the box and just imagined that if it—pictured it kicking off the wall, so you know I'll have a chance to score if it kicks away far enough," said Naquin in a post-game interview. It's interesting that Naquin remembers it this way; for a moment, it isn't clear whether the ball is going out of the park, off of the wall, or into the glove of Michael Saunders.
This is about as close as you get to catching a baseball without some punk-ass kid robbing you (sources indicate that Jeffrey Maier is now an all-around good guy, by the way. Like a large nose, one can indeed grow into or out of punk-assedness). Still, the ball careened off of the wall and rolled toward center field. At this point, the hit would clearly be a triple. Naquin digs around second base and loses his helmet on the way to third.
Then, inexplicably, we see Melvin Upton Jr. sitting on the ground, holding the ball in his hand, facing away from home plate.
Does anyone know what happened here? Why is a decent defensive center fielder doing the splits, on the ground, while a rookie steamrolls toward third base? I spent a solid hour searching for answers to this and found nothing. The most conclusive suggestion comes from our own Greg Grant, who believes that "Melvin Upton is playing a different sport here." Upton flops onto his belly while throwing to hit his cutoff man. I'm sure that the explanation is as simple as, "He slipped," but I'd like to imagine that Naquin hit the ball with so much force that it burned Upton's hand when he picked it up and sent him to the ground howling in pain.
This is when the real insanity begins. Mike Sarbaugh sends Naquin home. The stadium noise kicks up to eleven. It's clear that there's going to be a play at the plate, but once Naquin blasts off from third it's clear that he's going to beat the throw. The Indians definitely knew it: the celebration begins even before Naquin touches home. Take a look at the Indians' dugout as the play happens:
I enjoyed this angle pic.twitter.com/ypT5otcl73— TA (@ClevTA) August 20, 2016
Victory. Sweet, sweet victory, and Sandy Alomar Jr. running around the mob in order to beat traffic or something. As you might be aware, Naquin struck what was quickly becoming and is now certainly his signature pose before the mob enveloped him. Shortly after the game, local Indians fan and aficionado of fine bath salts Nate Rocheck said of the pose, "I'm getting it printed and hanging it up somewhere in my house."
The wonderful things only continue to happen after the mob at home plate. Lonnie Chisenhall gets so wrapped up in the excitement of the moment that he grabbed the cup tray off of the top of the cooler and dumps two entire cups of water on the mob. After this, he thrusts it toward the sky and jumps with the mob, never letting go.
Naquin and the rest of the team stream back to the dugout while exchanging high-fives and even a face-grab at one point with the coaching staff. Jason Kipnis, not content to share his love with the rest of the team, wraps Naquin up in a bear hug.
Naquin hops up the steps to begin a post-game interview with Andre Knott for the second consecutive night after a walk-off hit. Francisco Lindor, concerned that Naquin might be a little bit too warm and look a bit grungy on camera, gives him a quick bath. After all, Chisenhall couldn't really get the job done with an almost-empty tray.
After last night's insane finish, the Indians now sit 20 games above .500 with a 7 game lead in the American League central. From my perspective, the team also holds the lead in the Rookie of the Year race. It will be disappointing if an exciting Indians rookie comes just short of winning the award for a second consecutive year, but the promise of watching this young core of players for years to come makes all of that okay.
As for my mother: she survived the celebration, though many new bruises bloomed on her arms and legs. Her hands are sore this morning from high-fiving strangers.