Tonight was first a game of the elements, then a game of inches.
The forecast for tonight’s game was not promising, with green splotches all over the local radar. It was raining in downtown Cleveland in the late afternoon, but the showers cleared out just in time for the starting pitchers to warm up, and so the game could begin on time.
The two starting pitchers not only had to deal with the opposing lineup, but also with a skinny strike zone. Lisaberto Bonilla had Michael Brantley struck out twice in the first inning, but home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg called both pitches inside. Brantley would later walk, and while the Indians wouldn’t score, Bonilla had to make 14 more pitches to get out of the inning.
The Indians would break through in the third inning. Michael Brantley got on via an infield hit, a swinging bunt that died in the grass half-way down the third base line. Then Carlos Santana jumped on the first pitch he saw, pulling the ball deep into the lower deck beyond the right field fence.
Trevor Bauer made the start for the Indians, and while he kept the opposition off the board, had to make a lot of pitches to do it. As an example, he got ahead of Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton 0-2, but had to make another seven pitches to strike him out. Bauer has been better of late with throwing early strikes, but still needs to work on that quick put-away pitch. He made one mistake over the middle of the plate, a mid-90s fastball that Adam Duvall crushed, hitting it over the 19-foot wall in center field, tying the game in the top of the fourth. He would miss his location on a couple of other pitches, but those didn’t end up in the middle of the plate. One example was a hanging curve to Duvall in the fifth, but the pitch was at the top of the strike zone and the ball ended up a harmless pop fly to end the inning.
Bauer was at his best in the face of Cincinnati rally in that fifth inning. The frame start with a Carlos Santana error, then continued when Jose Peraza slapped a pretty good pitch into right field. Hamilton laid down a rather poor bunt, a ball that might have turned into a force out at third, but because Jose Ramirez was drawn in, the only play Roberto Perez had was to first base. Bauer then walked Zack Cozart on four pitches, loading the bases for Joey Votto. The Reds first baseman had reached base in both of his previous plate appearances, one being on a walk, the other on a line drive single. This time, though, Bauer made his pitches, ending the at-bat on a perfectly-placed two-seamer that Votto gave up on but leaked out over the plate. Bauer followed that up with the “mistake” curve that ended up a fly out to end the threat.
By this time, another green blob had reached downtown Cleveland. Rain began to fall in earnest in the bottom of the fifth, and with the game on the cusp of being official, perhaps the next team to score would end up victorious. Jason Kipnis led off the inning with a liner to left-center, taking second on Billy Hamilton’s weak arm. Francisco Lindor laid down a [redacted] sacrifice bunt, moving Kipnis to third, but Michael Brantley couldn’t drive him home, hitting a fly ball into shallow right field, not nearly deep enough to be a sac fly. But Santana came through with outs, lacing a ball over the right fielder’s head to give the Indians the lead.
Bauer retired the first batter in the top of the sixth, then Terry Francona walked to the mound, deciding that Bauer’s pitch count (94) and the next three batters (all left-handed) necessitated the call to the bullpen. But as Boone Logan trotted out of the bullpen, the grounds crew rolled out the tarp, as the rain, which had been falling steadily for the previous 20 minutes, was making the field dangerous.
After a two hour delay, the game resumed, and the Indians replaced Logan with Andrew Miller, and he did the job that Logan was originally summoned for, and went on to pitch the seventh. Bryan Shaw threw a scoreless inning, then Cody Allen entered to pitch the ninth.
The ninth inning was a series of close plays. The inning started with a single that Daniel Robertson likely catches if he was playing at his normal depth instead of the “no doubles” depth. Then a bloop single put the Reds in serious business. The Indians might have been able to turn a double play on a bunt right at Carlos Santana, but Jose Ramirez at third didn’t get a great grip on the ball and elected to hold it rather than risk the throw to first base.
That meant there were still Reds at first and second when Bill Hamilton stepped to the plate. The fastest man in baseball hit a sharp grounder to Santana at first, who made an excellent throw to Francisco Lindor, who also made a strong throw back to first. If any other hitter in baseball had been running, the Indians would have walked off the field a winner. And even with Hamilton running, for about 30 seconds they thought they had won the game, for the first base umpire called Hamilton out. But the play was reviewed, and video evidence showed that Hamilton had got the back a fraction of a second ahead of the throw. Then came the final, and most critical closest play of the inning: Zack Cozart hit a sinking line drive into shallow left field, and Michael Brantley dove for the ball. Had he caught it, the game would have been over, with the Indians winning 3-2. Had he seen the ball after it short-hopped his glove, Hamilton would have stayed at third, with the game tied at 3. But Brantley didn’t see the ball land in front of him, and Hamilton, who was running on the pitch, went from first to home on a ball that traveled perhaps 130 feet. And so Cody Allen blew his first save of the season.
The Indians didn’t go quietly in the ninth, with Jason Kipnis working a walk with two outs, and Francisco Lindor singled him to third (“no doubles” defense worked for the Reds in this case). But Michael Brantley’s bid to redeem his near-miss in the top of the ninth ended with a weak grounder to second base.