Michael Brantley roped a double to left field yesterday in the tenth inning to send the Cleveland Indians and fans home with the first walk-off win on the season. Yes, a walk off is always exciting, but this one meant a little bit more to the team, fans, and even Brantley himself.
I'm legitimately getting a bit emotional for Michael Brantley right now.— Matt Schlichting (@MattSchlichting) April 11, 2017
There still no crying in baseball — it only happened right after the game.
It’s not very often that a singular play in baseball hits everyone in the feels. Brantley, a team leader and former MVP candidate, missed almost all of last season with shoulder and arm issues. If you search “Brantley shoulder” on Google news there are 10,500 results, so I won’t scour through the news about his Odyssean journey back to the roster.
What I will do is present the walk-off hit in all of its glory, and dissect it in the year’s first Close Examination.
Rather than drink your usual morning coffee, just listen to Tom Hamilton call Michael Brantley's walk-off yesterday. pic.twitter.com/18MBcRg7Wp— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) April 12, 2017
Before anything else, I want to point out how determine Brantley looks to put this ball into play. We know that he always looks like a stone cold assassin tapping his rifle against his shoulder at the plate. Yesterday, though, he gritted his teeth through the swing.
This is also a fantastic freeze frame to analyze for what it shows about Brantley’s approach. This is a pitch on the outside corner, just over the black. It’s a 98 mph fastball. Instead of trying to get around early and pull it or get lift for additional power, Brantley stays back and smacks it the other way.
When breaking down the at-bat pitch-by-pitch, it becomes clear that feeding Brantley fastballs on the outside corner was the attack plan for the at-bat. Here’s the pitch plot from the catcher’s perspective.
When you see it this way, it becomes even more clear that this is a vintage Michael Brantley performance. He makes contact with every pitch at which he swings. He takes it to a full count, and then finds a fastball that is just a little bit elevated. He makes Kahne, the pitcher, pay for it with the loss. According to Statcast it comes off of his bat at about 95 mph, with a launch angle of 9.26 degrees. Hitters in the Statcast era enjoy a batting average of .729 on such hits.
I bring all of this up to point out how exceptional Brantley’s approach in this situation is, given all of the circumstances. This is a player who, by and large, hasn’t played competitive baseball for the last year. He comes to the plate in the home opener with the winning run on base and two outs. Instead of trying to crush a ball over the fence, Brantley takes what the pitcher gives him, still barrels it, and puts it into play down the line. Of course, Brantley just tells Andre Knott at the end of the game, “I was just trying to put my foot down and get a good swing on it.”
Brantley probably wouldn’t mind having the second pitch back for another chance at giving a fan at the Corner a souvenir.
Now, with the ball in play, the ball boy scurries away from the hit; Lindor digs around second base, already thinking about scoring; and Melky Cabrera does... about what you would expect a poor fielder to do. Not only does Melky get a bad jump on the ball, but he fails to anticipate the rebound off of the wall.
Just as the camera cuts away, we see Melky slamming the breaks to change direction and scuttle toward the caromed ball. Things don’t get much better for Melky from there. Something strange happens between this redirection and Melky’s throw back to the infield.
It appears that Melky took so long to stop that the ball simply rolled to where he stood, and so he felt the need to double crow hop (if you can even call his weird shuffle step something that refined) to power his throw.
The throw is terrible, but by this point Yasiel Puig wouldn’t have been able to throw Lindor out at home. A bad angle to the ball thwarted any chance Mekly had to cut Lindor down. You can even see the ball boy, casually stepping out of the path of the hit, then watching and silent judging Mekly for his fielding errors and clothing transgressions.
It’s fifty degrees. This isn’t Siberia. You don’t need a face warmer.
After Lindor crosses home, the party begins for the Cleveland Indians. It’s difficult to imagine a better ending for this game, isn’t it? A walk-off hit by a fan favorite who returned from a lengthy injury? Fantastic. You can see the same release from the players, as well.
If you’re not a little bit teary-eyed already, take a look at the post-game interview. This isn’t even the full interview. If you have MLB.tv, I definitely suggest going back and watching it; he gets a little bit more choked up.
Baseball is back in Cleveland, and even better — Michael Brantley is back, and already firing up his teammates for another run at the World Series. Maybe soon, Matt Underwood will actually get to call a World Series winning hit for Brantley instead of starting to and then catching himself at the last second.