There’s a knot in your chest, isn’t there?
You’ve seen this headline three or four times in the last two weeks. The Indians put together a big inning, then handed it back almost immediately. It looked like the team might be able to fight and squeak out the win, but no. The bullpen walked into the freeway during morning rush hour covered in liquid propane, signaled to the archers in the woods, and was promptly barraged with flaming arrows while disintegrating into dozens of pieces underneath 18 wheels.
You’re also familiar with this side of things: Mike Clevinger pitched a fantastic game and did everything a team would reasonably want a starting pitcher to do. He finished with ten strikeouts against one hit and four walks. He battled out of trouble in the 5th inning with help from a Lindor-sourced double play. The only other time he found trouble came in the 8th inning, but he’d thrown 116 pitches when Francona finally pulled him for surrendering a couple of walks.
Despite this stellar pitching performance, Domingo Germán outdueled Clevinger and the Indians. He pitched six no-hit innings, striking out nine and walking two. Evidently it was pre-ordained that Germán would either go six or stick to a strict pitch count, as the Yankees pulled him for Betances to start the 7th. Realistically, this gave the Yankees the best chance to win the game. That being said, it feels a bit wrong to yank a guy when he has a no-hitter going in his first major league start.
How did the Indians finally break things open in a way that let everyone know that the bullpen would come out and blow it?
They scored four in the 8th inning. That’s right — one big inning in which the offense generated the kind of lead that only an incompetent and unlucky bullpen could ruin. The Yankees still held a no-hitter going into the inning, but Yonder Alonso broke it open with a ground ball single. Rajai Davis came in to pinch run, and then Yan Gomes smacked a liner to center field. With Tyler Naquin at the plate, Rajai Davis stole third; it essentially seems to be his birthright at this point. Betances last for only another hitter, as Naquin singled to center as well, scoring Davis.
Jonathan Holder didn’t fare any better for the Yankees. First, he forced Greg Allen to pop out on a bunt*. Except that no, he didn’t force Allen to do that. Allen did that to himself. As such, Lindor’s subsequent single came with one out, and it scored Yan Gomes. Naquin scored on a passed ball during Jason Kipnis’ at-bat. Lindor motored to third and scored on the sacrifice when Kipnis flew out to Brett Gardner.
*someone correct me if I’m wrong, but if Sanchez “drops” the ball it’s a free triple play, isn’t it? The one ball Sanchez holds on to and he should have let it go.
Did the Indians still manage to blow it?
Yes. I honestly wrote this sentence when the Indians still led 4-3 because I’ve watched this team often enough lately to know what’s coming.
Three runs scored after Brett Gardner singled and Aaron Judge doubled in the 8th. Two of these werw inherited from Clevinger, but it is also fair to pin them on Francona. Cody Allen battled his way out of the inninf when Gary Sanchez flew out to center field, but it took him 24 pitches to record both outs.
They lost the instant Allen came back out for the 9th. Terry Francona appears to want to give Allen all of the innings Bryan Shaw used to pitch in addition to his normal workload. I understand that Miller is out and Francona wants to use his best guys, but Cody Allen is not an all-star reliever when you make him throw 40+ pitches pretty much every other day.
It didn’t help that the Indians failed to add any insurance in the top of the frame, but based on what happened next it is difficult to imagine a different outcome. Allen couldn’t finish the job. Then, Dan Otero came in and gave up a game-winning home run to Gleybar Torres and the Yankees completed a sweep of the Indians.
It’s too early to panic about this team’s chances in October, but it is a perfectly fine time to question exactly how much of the shrewd bullpen management of seasons past is attributable to Mickey Callaway. Nor is it too early to be absolutely furious at how this team let its starters down, and let lead after lead slip away in the late innings.
How worried should you be?
I hope it’s an early gut check that serves to strengthen the Indians resolve throughout the rest of the season. It is possible that the Indians just completed its greatest challenge on the season - they finally get an off day tomorrow after playing 19 games in 18 days, two of which went into extra innings. One of those was a rain-delayed second game of a double header. They went 8-11 in that span, and very nearly went 11-8. If that’s the worst stretch of baseball they endure all season, then things are okay.
Even if that ends up being the case, it’s been difficult to watch this team for more than a week now.