Are the 2018 Cleveland Indians the exciting, edge-of-your-seat action we saw last night and for exactly one inning tonight, or the unwatchable mess of an offense we saw for most of tonight and almost every other night this season? It’s hard to tell, but far more often than not they’ve been the latter and somehow I’m stuck recapping most of their games. What did I do to deserve this?
Remember Jurickson Profar? He’s a former phenom who debuted at 20 years old with a dramatic thud. And he just kept thudding, until suddenly in his last year of arbitration and about to be a free agent. He’s what you would call a post-post-hype prospect. To this point, ineffectiveness and injuries have made him mostly irrelevant in Texas Rangers history, but he was sure able to scorch the Indians tonight. Because of course he was.
Profar’s epic 11-pitch at-bat would be the stuff of legends in a playoff game, but on May 1 it’s just a depressing footnote in the Indians’ ongoing struggles this season. He was able to work a 3-0 count, before Mike Clevinger, to his credit, brought it back to 2-3. Profar then fouled off five straight pitches before putting the 11th pitch of the at-bat in play for a two-run double. If Jurickson Profar rising from the dead to grind out an at-bat against isn’t the epitome of the first month of the season, I don’t know what is.
Clevinger had a couple bad at-bats, but overall he finished 6.2 innings only giving up three earned runs and striking out seven. His lone home run was a Nomar Mazara solo shot. That guy is pretty good.
The top-third of the lineup contributed tonight in the losing effort, too — Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Jose Ramirez combined to go 6-for-17 with two runs batted in and only 12 runners stranded on base. I say only, because the rest of the lineup combined to leave 18 on base, which seems like a glitch on MLB.com’s box score, but I’m too scared to count and actually see if that’s true.
Michael Brantley may have only had one hit in this game (in six at-bats), but it was the biggest. The biggest of the game, maybe the biggest of the season, and it was the first of its kind:
Michael Brantley’s HR is the first game-tying slam with two outs on an 0-2 count in the 9th inning or later on record. pic.twitter.com/7lDCPZsZGO— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) May 2, 2018
If you’re a fan of Win Probability Added, Brantley’s slam had an astounding WPA of .489, meaning he improved the Indians’ odds to win by almost 50 percent with one grand swing of the bat. If you’re a visual learner, enjoy this FanGraphs Win Probability Chart for the game (at least the part that’s enjoyable):
What kid hasn’t pretended to be up to bat down by four with the bases loaded, two outs, and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth? The end result in those fantasies is always you, the hero, coming through and tying the game with a grand slam. The crowd goes wild as you try and do that fake, quiet audience cheer noise.
Brantley got to live out that exact fantasy. His dramatic grand slam tied the game at six in the bottom of the ninth and gave the Indians all the momentum with Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso coming up to bat to put the game away.
If tonight was the incarnation of backyard childhood fantasies, we should all be glad they usually end right after the home run, because what follows isn’t a pretty sight.
Edwin did his job by returning a 98 mile-per-hour four-seamer to center field for a single. With Rajai Davis pinch running, Alonso had a pretty rough at-bat, we’ll call it. Davis had a mile headstart more than once for an easy steal, but Alonso just kept swinging and fouling off pitches instead of letting the Really Fast Man take a free base. He seemed to realize it, but he just kept doing it and Rajai kept trotting back to first, out of scoring position.
It didn’t matter in the end, because Alonso struck out anyway. Because. Of. Course. He. Did.
In extras, all the flaws of the Indians were put under a spotlight. They couldn’t hit for anything, and the Andrew Millerless bullpen had no answer for the Texas Rangers third-stringers. Nick Goody happened to be on the mound when back-to-back home runs were hit, but it could have easily happened to anyone with an arm in the Tribe bullpen. Tyler Olson was taxed yesterday but forced to pitch again today, and Goody had to face nine pitchers before things went south.
We’ll always have that ninth inning, at least.