I know that offense tends to get the most attention in baseball, but to me there is nothing as pleasing as a dominant pitching performance. There’s just something about making professional hitters look like Little Leaguers that puts a smile on your face. Tonight’s showing by Carlos Carrasco still has me grinning even now, 10 minutes after shutting off the TV. Of course, it also helps that Carrasco spun a masterpiece in service of his team’s record-tying 14th straight victory. And that by twirling a complete game almost-shutout, he picked up the bullpen, letting them rest after having to throw 8.1 innings last night.
How good was Carrasco’s stuff tonight? Absolutely nothing was straight. Fastballs that ended up down the middle started out at the batter’s waist, sliders that ended up at the batter’s shoetops started out at his knees, and even pitches that ended up approximately where they began took a few side trips on their journey. The result was weak contact early in the count, and if the White Sox batter foolishly got two strikes on him, a strike out. And because Carrasco was keeping those wrigglers in the strike zone, he got more efficient as the game went on; batters who in previous at-bats struck out came to the plate eager to swing at the first half-way decent pitch they saw. That kind of reputation, once you earn it, can make an ace’s life easy, and you saw a microcosm of that tonight. Carrasco would give up singles in the fifth and sixth inning, but both times White Sox hitters would ground into double plays.
Speaking of double plays, I would be remiss not to mention Carlos Santana’s contribution to the one turned in the fifth. He fielded the ball quickly, stepped on first, and was going to throw to second for the tag out. But he realized that Avisail Garcia, the runner, had frozen, thinking that he’d scamper back to first after Santana released his throw. But Carlos didn’t throw, instead running towards Garcia and starting a rundown. It was a subtle play, but one that should be recognized alongside Santana’s outstanding defensive work this season.
Speaking of defense, the Indians scored just one run in their first four at-bats despite the White Sox gift wrapping opportunity after opportunity for them. Of the many miscues that the White Sox made tonight, the two that stuck out to me:
- With a runner on first base, Tyler Naquin hits a worm burner up the middle. Shortstop Tyler Saladino tried to field the ball and tag second base in one motion, but got his positioning all messed so that he ended up kicking the ball before it got to his glove. The box score still lists the play as a double (lol).
- In the eighth inning Roberto Perez hit a ground ball to “first baseman” Matt Davidson, who promptly booted the ball in an attempt to field it and throw home for the force. Then he tried to pick up the ball in an attempt to get the runner at first, and failed again. I’m going to guess Jose Abreu is playing first base tomorrow night.
Despite all these chances, the Indians still only led 1-0 heading into the seventh inning. White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez pitched very well give the absolute dog’s breakfast* the defense made of balls put in play behind him, but he left after the fifth inning. Gregory Infante (who has a great nickname: El Meteorico) pitched a scoreless sixth inning, then walked Edwin Encarnacion to begin the seventh. That brought in Danny Farquhar, who threw a fastball to Carlos Santana. That fastball landed deep into the right field seats to give Carrasco and the Indians some breathing room.
As it turned out, Carrasco would need that bit of breathing room. With two outs in the ninth, just one from a rare Maddux**, the light-hitting Adam Engel drove a fastball just over the wall in right to end the shutout bid. Carrasco would finish the game having thrown just 97 pitches, only 21 of them balls. Even with the one blemish, it still ranks in my opinion as the best pitching performance of the year, especially taking into account what happened the day before.
And to top everything off, the victory tied a franchise record for consecutive wins, set just 14 months ago. The Indians are the first team in over 80 years to win at least 14 games in back-to-back seasons. They’ll try to break the franchise record tomorrow night, and in the process, make hundreds of homeowners very happy.
*Which may have been available in the outfield seats, given the “Dog Day” promotion being held by the White Sox
**A shutout completed with under 100 pitches (Lukehart 2012).