The Cleveland Indians started off the second half by going on a terrible 1-5 road trip to Oakland and San Francisco. Following that trip, the Tribe returned home to Progressive Field to begin a new series with the Toronto Blue Jays and things have looked much better as of late. After yesterday’s 13-3 obliteration of the Toronto baseball team, Cleveland took an extra inning tonight before getting their second walk-off of 2017.
But before we get to Francisco Lindor’s late inning magic, Danny Salazar demands our attention. Coming into today’s game, Salazar had not pitched in a game for Cleveland since June 3 and had not started a game since May 27. Prior to hitting the DL, Danny was rocking an unsightly 5.40 ERA and eventually hit the DL with some shoulder soreness. As he began his rehab assignment in the minors, things didn’t look good either as he was still walking too many hitters and not lasting far into games. Everyone was hoping that Salazar would come back and dominate hitters like we saw early on in 2016, but most were hesitant to expect a large contribution from the right hander due to the struggles he had faced this year.
Hopefully tonight was proof that Danny Salazar still has what it takes to be a dominant major league starter and a key contributor for the Cleveland Indians.
After 12 pitches, Danny Salazar was walking to the Tribe dugout after striking out the first three batters he faced. 9 pitches later, he was done with the second inning as well. One of the key issues that Salazar has struggled with throughout his career is his command, an issue that was not at all present tonight. He threw a total of 86 pitches, 61 of which were strikes, over the course of 7.0 innings of shutout baseball. On top of that, he faced the minimum while striking out eight and walking no one. His fastball was his main weapon of choice tonight, and it routinely sat in the 95-97 mph range, often touching 98. When he wasn’t blowing hitters away with heat, he was making them chase with pitches like this:
It’s been said a lot, but having a dominant Danny Salazar to compliment Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Mike Clevinger will make this a scary good rotation, especially in a short postseason series. Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer hopefully took notice tonight; Danny is back and wants his rotation spot back, and someone will have to give theirs up to make room.
The offense, on the other hand, seemed to take most of the night off after their 13 run outburst last night. The one run that was scored in regulation shouldn’t have actually scored at all. On a ground ball to that should have ended the inning in a double play, Josh Donaldson bobbled the ball and had no play other than to throw to first to get Edwin Encarnacion out. While he got one out, his “error” allowed Lindor to score from third base. With the way Marcus Stroman was pitching, this was absolutely a gift that was almost the deciding factor of tonight’s game. Stroman also made hitters look foolish all night despite having some minor hand issues earlier in the game. Despite this, he was able to last 7.2 innings and gave up just 1 run. Stroman is the best pitcher for Toronto this year and he showed it tonight. Fortunately for the Tribe (and unfortunately for Stroman), the Toronto offense gave him no help.
Now I said that one run was almost enough to win the game for the Tribe because it turned out it wasn’t. After Danny Salazar finished the seventh inning, Tito decided that he had pitched enough for his first start back. What ifs are every fan’s favorite pastime, so I’m sure many are questioning Tito’s decision (now) to pull Salazar in favor of Andrew Miller for the eighth inning. Normally, no one bats an eye at this decision, and why would they? Close game, late inning, you bring in one of the best relievers in baseball to shut down the opponent. Tonight, while the strategy was sound, the results were not. On his first pitch of the night, Andrew Miller missed his target and left a ball over the plate for Justin Smoak to crush. Smoak, who’s having one of his best years ever, drilled a pitch on the outside part of the plate to right-center field to tie the game. And just like that, Danny Salazar would get a no-decision on the evening.
Cody Allen came into the ninth inning and was not very effective. Had it not been for a phenomenal outfield assist by Michael Brantley, the Blue Jays may have taken the lead in the top half of the inning. However, after a Darwin Barney walk, Jose Bautista hit a deep fly ball to left field. Dr. Smooth, knowing that Barney would be running, primed himself and launched a missile straight into the waiting glove of Jose Ramirez for his seventh assist on the year. Russell Martin then grounded out and it was time for bonus baseball.
Things got even dicier in the tenth inning when the Indians gave the Blue Jays two extra outs to play with before finally retiring them with the game still tied. The first extra out came on a routine ground ball hit to Francisco Lindor that was bobbled, allowing Josh Donaldson to reach base safely. A walk by Justin Smoak put the go-ahead run in scoring position with nobody out. Kendrys Morales mercifully struck out to bring up Steve Pearce. Pearce hit a weak grounder to third baseman Giovanny Urshella, who was waiting with his foot on third base for the force out. Unfortunately, his throw to Carlos Santana at first came up short and Santana was unable to pick the throw, resulting in the inning extending for a second time. Allen, having now recorded five outs, was lifted for everyone’s favorite reliever Bryan Shaw. Shaw was able to induce a harmless ground ball by Kevin Pillar and received the toss from Santana at first to end the inning.
With Lindor’s first walk-off home run of his career in the books, the Cleveland Indians have taken the series from the Toronto Blue Jays and go for the sweep in day baseball tomorrow. Two games in a row now have shown some incredible parts of the Cleveland baseball team. It would be nice to see them all continue to click consecutively.