Tonight was the last time Danny Salazar is going to pitch in the regular season, but given how he pitched, he’ll pitch again before the playoffs are over. Salazar’s outing was limited by pitch count and team needs (more on that below), but for the 4.2 innings he was on the mound was as dominant as you could possibly be. Of the 16 batters he faced, he struck out 9 of them, and in the process threw just 64 pitches. Had Salazar been fully stretched out, he might have had a chance of throwing a complete game.
Before the game, the Indians’ brain trust met to discuss the postseason roster, and based on how this start was discussed, it seemed like the goal for Salazar was to finish the season on a good note so that he’d have confidence heading into 2018. And given how he’d pitched after returning from the Disabled List, you couldn’t blame the team for setting its expectations low. But now, after seeing how ridiculous Salazar made a very good offensive lineup look, perhaps another meeting of the minds is called for.
The reason why Salazar left the game with two outs in the fifth inning wasn’t really that he had reached his pitch count (that was 70-75 pitches), but to accommodate Mike Clevinger, who is going to pitch out of the bullpen in the ALDS. Terry Francona wanted a situation in tonight’s game that would simulate what he’d be doing in the ALDS. Preferably that situation would involve a runner on base, with one or two outs in the inning. But, wouldn’t you know, Salazar pitched much too well for that situation to occur; he allowed two base runners (a weakly-hit double and a walk), and was never in any kind of jam. So Clevinger came into the game with the bases empty, but because he immediately gave up a double, he created his own high-leverage environment. Clevinger would get out of the fifth, and pitch a clean sixth inning, which is exactly what Francona wanted out of him.
It should be mentioned that while the Indians were trying these experiments, the Twins were trying to clinch a playoff spot. Their magic number for making the AL Wild Card heading into tonight’s action was just 1 game, and as such gave the Indians a very willing opponent. When the Indians jumped ahead 2-0 early in the contest, manager Paul Molitor very quickly got the Twins bullpen going, even though he had used 10 pitches the night before. Starter Adalberto Mejia would be pulled in the fourth inning, and Molitor would use five relievers to get through the rest of the game. The plan worked last night, as the Twins would come back late to win, but not tonight. Following Mike Clevinger was Andrew Miller, who was pitching in back-to-back games for the first time since he returned from the Disabled List. He looked very good, retiring all three batters he faced (two via strikeout). Joe Smith pitched a flawless frame in the eighth.
Meanwhile the Indians had gotten two extra insurance runs, one of which provided by the Twins. With runners at the corners and two outs in the fifth, Jay Bruce hit a routine grounder to third base, but the throw to first was low and couldn’t be dug out. The fourth run of the game came on a Yan Gomes homer in the sixth.
Cody Allen came out to pitch the ninth, which was a non-save situation. And thankfully it was, because Jorge Polanco would hit a two-run homer, and later the Twins would bring the tying run to the plate. But Cody would finish off the game, and Minnesota’s champagne celebration would have to wait at least a couple more hours.
Other things of note:
- Yandy Diaz returned to the starting lineup after missing a week with a finger injury, while Lonnie Chisenhall made his first appearance since September 14 by pinch-hitter (he struck out on four pitches). Both players, if healthy, are on track to make the postseason roster, so it’s crucial that both get as many plate appearances as possible the last four days of the season.
- Jose Ramirez hit his 53rd double of the season, which tied him with Grady Sizemore (2006) for 3rd on the franchise all-time list. George Burns (no, not that one) holds the team record with 64 doubles in 1926.