This game was Monday night’s contest in reverse. While yesterday’s game was a laugher that turned into a nail-biter, tonight the Indians blew the game open with a seemingly endless string of RBI hits in the eighth.
Both teams had to make a roster move in the wake of last night’s eleven-inning. The Angels had to send out their only left-handed pitcher to get a fresh arm to Cleveland, while the Indians had to sacrifice Abe Almonte in order to get Shawn Armstrong onto the roster. The combination of a lengthy winning streak and a short outing from starter Mike Clevinger left Francona with limited options should the game be close tonight. Andrew Miller had thrown three innings in the past two days, while Cody Allen had thrown 3.2 innings over the past four days. Hopefully Carlos Carrasco would be able to go deep into the game, and the offense would give the back end of the bullpen a night off.
Bradley Zimmer, who was one of last night’s heroes, picked up where he left off, swatting a pitch over the wall in left for a leadoff homer. Zimmer had been struggling both before and after the All-Star Break, but in recent games has seemed to make adjustments to the way he’s being pitched. He would reach base three times tonight, and would be responsible for two of the first three Tribe runs of the night.
Carrasco was not sharp in the first portion of his outing. He was missing his spots with regularity in the first several innings, especially struggling in the second and third innings. He would limit the damage done, though, and then found his release slot in the middle innings, retiring the side in order in the fifth and sixth inning. What once seemed a remote possibility thanks a high early pitch count now looked plausible; Carlos might be able to get through seven innings with a 2-1 lead. But LGFT Luis Valbuena got a pitch in his compact nitro zone, tying the game at two, and two batters later Carrasco was out of the game. In came Bryan Shaw, who got two ground balls to preserve the tie in what normally would be an Andrew Miller role.
After the Indians re-took the lead in the bottom of the seventh, Shaw would record one out in the eighth (thanks to a nifty catch on a difficult sinking liner by Austin Jackson), then gave way to Miller, who was only tasked with getting two outs. He would give up a Baltimore chop base hit, but otherwise had little issue getting out of the inning. If I had to guess, Francona wasn’t going to use Miller in a tie game until either the ninth of extra innings, but with a lead he was willing to utilize his relief ace to get a couple of outs.
Let’s turn now to the Angels situation. Like with Indians, the Angels had extensively used their bullpen the night before, and so was counting on their starter (Ricky Nolasco) to give them as many innings as possible. And Nolasco did his best, getting his team into the seventh inning bent but not broken. He, like Carrasco, had had to throw a lot of pitches early in the game to get out of some difficult situations (he was helped when Edwin Encarnacion was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a single), and as he started that seventh inning, was already over 100 pitches. But manager Mike Scioscia, pondering what he had in the bullpen, seemed bound and determined that Nolasco get through the seventh. And Nolasco almost did it; Austin Jackson did single to open the frame, but he was still at first with two outs thanks to a batter’s interference call,* and just missed striking out Bradley Zimmer. But on his 119th pitch, Nolasco left a ball on the outer half of the plate, just where Zimmer likes it, and he slammed the pitch off the wall in left-center field, giving the Indians a 3-2 lead.
And so now we reach the bottom of the eighth inning. The Indians have a one-run lead, and Cody Allen, who Francona didn’t want to use, is warming in the bullpen. If ever there was a time for a big inning, it would be this one. And my goodness was the timing right. Cam Bedrosian, who was not only one of the Angels’ better relievers but also one of the few relievers who didn’t pitch last night, was tasked with keeping the deficit at 3-2. Michael Brantley greeted him with a single, then Edwin Encarnacion walked, then, after Jose Ramirez struck out on a questionable call, Carlos Santana drove him what seemed like an important insurance run. Terry Francona, remembering Encarancion’s adventure at home plate, sent out Brandon Guyer to pinch-run...little did anyone expect Guyer to contribute to the team’s offense later in the evening. For Guyer would end up batting in the bottom of the eighth, and would drive in the seventh run of the inning. The Indians, who struggled all last week to hit with runners on, had six RBI hits in one inning.
And so Cody Allen, who expected to enter the ninth with no margin for error, gave way to Dan Otero, who entered with an eight-run cushion. He’d give up two runs, but they didn’t cause any consternation. Last night Otero pitched with the game on the line, tonight he was just mopping up.
In 12 hours the Indians go for a series and homestand sweep. It’s amazing how much can change in a week.
*Batter’s interference is so rarely called (the batter doesn’t have to physically interfere, he could just get in the way of the catcher’s throwing lane — the rule is broad) that it was a surprise that this particular play would elicit it; Gonzalez’s bat did touch the feet of Angels catcher Martin Maldonado. Jackson had stolen second base and was on his way to third when the throw dribbled into the outfield, but was ordered back to first because of the interference call.