It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
For most of tonight’s 3-1 win over the Kansas City Royals, the Cleveland Indians offense looked lost, overwhelmed, and confused. They were being shredded by yet another lefty whose fastball might reach 89 miles per hour in his wildest dream, and they stranded runners in scoring position two innings in a row. Then, with a spark of back-to-back dingers, my memory of the game stops looking like grainy WWII footage and becomes a 4K IMAX experience.
Eric Hosmer could never hope to live up to the expectations put on him by Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton, but he did his best today. Hosmer’s single in the fourth scored the first run of the game for either team, and for a while it looked like that would be the only run of the contest. When he came up in the ninth, receiving another tongue bath from Hamilton, he hit a weak grounder to second that went down as a fielder’s choice. So sad.
Jason Vargas, who looks shockingly similar to a Cy Young contender this season if you squint and are on fire, held the Indians to just four runs over six innings. It wasn’t until Royals manager Ned Yost pulled him after allowing a single in the seventh inning that the Tribe offense got going. Not in that inning, mind you. Even with Kipnis’ single and a later walk by Yan Gomes, Abraham Almonte and Carlos Santana combined to take a promising young inning out back and Old Yeller it.
Kipnis came back in the next inning with another hit, singling home Michael Brantley and moving Edwin Encarnacion over to second base. That at-bat, which seemed like a herculean effort given how the Indians had played to that point, would wrap up Kipnis’ hit. He finished 2-for-4 on the day to give him his second-straight two-hit game, and his third since he returned on April 21.
A half-inning later, Andrew Miller dispatched the Royals’ bottom of the order in a matter of 15 minutes. Which is an eternity in Andrew Miller time, but it included an error right off the bat, and Jorge Bonafacio had the audacity to take an at-bat to four pitches before striking out on a slider.
Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor eventually gave the Indians the lead with huge back-to-back home runs in the top of the ninth off of Kelvin Herrera.
And these weren’t weak fly balls that got pushed out by the wind. These were blasts powered by the pent-up frustration of two great players watching their team offense slump. According to Baseball Savant, Santana’s go-ahead homer had an exit velocity of 106.5 miles per hour, and Lindor’s left the Kauffman Stadium at 99.5 mils per hour.
But don’t let any of that distract you from the real story of this game: Josh Tomlin twirled an absolute gem. At 76 pitches through seven innings, he would have been well on his way to the first Indians Maddux since Carlos Carrasco did it almost three years ago if it weren’t for that Eric Hosmer single. It was a typical Josh Tomlin outing in that he moved things along at a brisk pace and didn’t walk anybody, but it was very un-Tomlin in that he induced eight groundouts to seven flyouts.
Tomlin had an absolutely atrocious start to the season, but his last couple starts — this afternoon, especially — point to him improving. Now we just hope the offense follows him.