Adam Plutko’s no-hitter was never going to be perfect.
A relatively quiet one-two-three inning kicked off the game for the pitcher making his second career start, but trouble was a brewin’ from the first batter. Whether it be nerves or just not having a feel for it, Plutko couldn’t seem to find the zone in the first inning all that well, especially with his secondary pitches (fastball issues would come later on, though). It looked live like he was getting pinched a bit, but it turns out home plate umpire Ted Barrett was calling a very accurate strikezone and Plutko was missing by mere inches on every attempted put-away. He worked out of it, though, thanks to a classic TOOTBLAN by Ian Happ when he overran an obvious fly ball to left field.
Plutko’s apparent control issues carried over into the second inning, and grew into a monster. Over the course of six batters and three walks, he loaded the bases but somehow still hadn’t given up a hit or a run. Then, by the good graces of antiquated National League rules, Jon Lester was up to bat. And like any athlete doing something he is not trained to do, he didn’t hit too well, and the inning was over.
Michael Brantley’s single in the top of the third (one half-inning away from the Cubs nearly blowing the whole thing wide open) turned out to be the game-winning hit when Rajai came flying in from second base. That’s all the Indians needed because, early control issues notwithstanding, Adam Plutko dipped and ducked and dived his way to staying out of trouble and maintaining the world’s unlikeliest no-hitter through a full six innings of work until Anthony Rizzo broke it up in the seventh. And when he started to falter, Andrew Miller strode in on a pale set of legs and shut down the scoring threat of two men on and no out. Just like vintage Andrew Miller would do. Dare I say he’s back?
Kind of like the inverse of last night — where it was hard to tell if the Indians offense was just that good, or Cubs pitching was that bad — I’m not sure how to judge Plutko, and even the bullpen tonight. The Cubs are in a bad stretch right now, and I don’t think a second-year pitcher would get away with what Plutko did against them very often tonight. But on the other hand, give them in the credit in the world for being this good against an overall good baseball team. The Cubs are struggling like hell right now, but I don’t believe early-May Indians have enough skill points in fun to take advantage of a downtrodden team. Right now they sure as hell do, and I’m here for it. Plutko battled, and he won.
The Indians offense only scored one run tonight, granted, but the top three of this lineup is looking like one of the best in baseball. Where most teams are relying on big home runs and oodles of strikeouts, the Indians are employing Jose Ramirez and Michael Brantley (two of the game’s best contact hitters) back-to-back in the two and three holes, respectively. Combine that Francisco Lindor leading off an occasionally hitting one out himself, and it’s not a surprise if opposing pitchers are relieved to see Edwin Encarnacion come up to bat when the big three are done with them. Tonight they combined to go 5-for-11 with a walk and two strikeouts.
I leave you with this, a stunning shot of Jason Kipnis attempting something resembling defense when the Indians were clinging to a one-run lead. I mean this not as a shot across the bow at Jason or a knock an overall solid effort, but it seemed like a crime to not use it somewhere.
Cherish it as I will for all of my days.