That should have served as foreshadowing to the Indians tonight, as about three hours later the Rays walked off on a two-run home run by Ji-Man Choi to erase an Indians come-from-behind win. The Rays knocked Corey Kluber out in the second inning by scoring four runs. While the Rays couldn’t hold the Indians at bay due to key hits by Jose Ramirez and Brandon Guyer, it didn’t matter because of a blown third strike call with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
The fourth pitch should have been the end of the game. Instead, Pham hit a ball with an 11% hit probability past the fielder that used to be Jason Kipnis to send the game-winning run to the plate.
Joy. Or should I say CHOI?!
How did Corey Kluber get bounced in the second inning?
Well, he looked terrible out there.
To be fair to Kluber, two hits in that inning had a hit probability of 20% or less: Willy Adames’ RBI single and Nick Ciufo’s double. I’m not excusing his performance tonight; I choose to describe it as grotesque. At least it was interesting, though. Kluber managed to allow a walk, single, double, triple, home run, and HBP in two-thirds of an inning. If that’s happened before to an Indians’ pitcher, I’ve never heard of it. Throw in a catcher’s interference and a balk? Baby, you’ve got a 44-pitch, 4-run stew going.
Kluber isn’t flashing the same elite command or “stuff” that we’re used to late in the season. He is also still a Cy Young candidate and one of the best pitchers in the game. Unlike Cody Allen or Andrew Miller, there’s nothing for him to “work out” in the last month of the season, so I’d rather he stay on ice and rest lest he pitch fatigued/injured in the postseason again.
How did the Indians manage to claw back?
Ramirez hit a double in the fifth inning that didn’t really deserve to be a hit. However, Joey Wendle couldn’t quite get under the ball, and it took a massive bounce off of the artificial turf at Tropicana. Francisco Lindor motored his way home from second to put the Indians within two.
An inning later, Brandon Guyer came in as a pinch-hitter to face a left-handed pitcher. He roped a double over the head of the outfield to score two and tie the game, as Kipnis and Gomes both scored after they reached via fielder’s choice and a single, respectively.
While these both sound like exciting plays, they don’t compare to what would have been the winning run.
Jose Ramirez was hit by a pitch in the top of the seventh inning. He stole second base, then watched Edwin Encarnacion strike out. Wouldn’t you start to feel a little bit bored out there, all by yourself? I imagine Ramirez wanted to return to the dugout, and this is why he stole third when Yonder Alonso came to the plate. Once Alonso poked a ball on the ground to the right side of the infield, Ramirez saw his chance. He broke on contact, slide head-first to the back of the plate, and beat the tag to give the Indians the lead.
I don’t care if Jose’s recent struggles at the plate preclude him from winning the MVP in some people’s eyes; that inning underlines why he is one of, if not the, most valuable players in the league. He knows he isn’t making the same impact at the plate right now, so he found a way to do it on the basepaths.
Jose Ramirez hit by pitch. Jose Ramirez steals second, loses helmet. Jose Ramirez steals third, loses helmet. Jose Ramires scores on a Yonder Alonso grounder to the second baseman, slides in head-first ahead of throw, loses helmet, claps emphatically.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 11, 2018
Indians up 5-4 in the 7th.
None of these things matter because baseball continually pumps us up with hope only to let us deflate and discover that it was filling us up with hydrogen the whole time and we’re surrounded by candles
But the bullpen was fantastic tonight! Honestly! Tyler Olson truck out all four batters that he faced. Oliver Perez struck out three of four. Dan Otero closed out the remainder of the inning without allowing two inherited baserunners to score. Andrew Miller touched 94 with his fastball and obliterated the Rays with his slider in a glorious return to the diamond. Neil Ramirez got a hold. Cody Allen backed himself into a corner but found a tiny little Narnia door and escaped through it. The Indians out-bullpenned the Rays on a night when the Rays used an opener. They did it!
Even Brad Hand did his job by retiring the side in order. Except no, he didn’t, because Tommy Pham got to see another pitch.
What kills me is that as soon as I saw the blown third strike call, I knew that we were going to lose the game. It’s just become the theme of 2018 - the bullpen lets the other team see a tiny little slice of daylight through a crack in the door as it’s closing, and they kick it down so hard that the entire building collapses.
The Indians play the Rays again tomorrow night and a different umpire will be behind home plate.