If the Indians play well in October, it’s likely that they will meet the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS and have to go through them to get back to the World Series. Last night, the Sawx rallied late to gain a lead that they would not lose. Tonight, it looked like the same may happen. But instead, the Michael Brantley and the Indians came through in the 11th inning to get a walk-off 5-4 victory in front of a sold out home audience.
If this same game were to happen in a few weeks, I don’t know that I would be this calm writing this recap. So how did they get here?
Mike Clevinger: A Tale of Two Pitchers
Mike Clevinger has been absolutely dominant all season, and he’s been getting better and better as the season has progressed. Since the All-Star break, Clevinger is sporting a cool 2.31 ERA with a slash line against of .196/.265/.346. The one knock against him up until this season has been his tendency to issue free passes. He’s done well in that regard this year, but tonight those command issues came back to haunt Clevinger from the get-go. Of his 103 pitches, only 56 of them were strikes. This caused his pitch count to rapidly climb and he issued 5 walks, his second highest total this season. His command issues seemed to stem from his fastball more than anything, as he frequently missed pretty badly when going to the fastball.
However, Clevinger also brought a nasty offspeed stuff that was working fairly well for him all night. His fastball only generated 3 whiffs, while his changeup, slider, and curve combined to generate 8. He also notched 4 strikeouts, bringing his season total to 200. In case you haven’t heard, that’s a big deal:
Clevinger had a short outing (5.0 IP), but he did leave with the lead and only gave up 2 runs. The control issue was definitely apparent tonight, but one would hope that it’s just a one-game aberration and not a precursor to a larger issue.
Yan Gomes is blazing hot
We all know the struggles that Jose Ramirez has had over the past month+. But during that same time frame, another member of the Tribe has stepped up. Since August 1, The Yanimal has slashed .330/.357/.505. Tonight, he added another couple of hits including a double in the 2nd inning that plated the Tribe’s first run and a single that later turned into the winning run in the bottom of the 11th. We all want to see Ramirez heat back up in time to destroy opposing teams in the playoffs, but having Gomes be a stud in the bottom of the lineup is an incredible weapon that a lot of fans probably didn’t think would be there.
I love Francisco Lindor
Seriously, give this man all the money. He plated another two runs tonight and made some dazzling plays in the field. Lindor is October-ready and we should all be overjoyed that his infectious smile is on our side every day.
Bullpens are weird
Oliver Perez continues to be the rock that no one expected. Miller threw the most pitches in a non-playoff game in like 37 years (he threw 31, 20 for strikes). Brad Hand faced two hitters and immediately gave up a double and a single to tie the game. The pitch to Jackie Bradley Jr. that went for a double was middle-in and JBJ turned on it with authority. The RBI pitch to Andrew Benintendi wasn’t bad per se, but Benintendi reached out and slapped the pitch into left field to plate two runs. Thankfully, he also tried for two and was instead TOOTBLAN’d to end the inning. Oh, and we can’t forget about Tyler Olson. 2 clean innings with no baserunners and a pair of strikeouts. He made a fantastic case for himself tonight to take one of the few bullpen spots available in the postseason. I like this version of Tyler Olson.
Before we leave the bullpen section, here’s this nastiness from Andrew Miller (he also hit 95 mph on the radar gun, hnnnnng):
Andrew Miller, Wicked 83mph Back Door Slider (tail). pic.twitter.com/WrHLmUoLzu— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 23, 2018
The one that almost got away
Tell me you didn’t feel a bit of dread after the 10th inning. Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion both walked to leadoff the inning to put the winning run in scoring position. Brian Johnson was then replaced by Joe Kelly, who is apparently awful against Josh Donaldson. Donaldson proceeded to strike out (I was soooooo hoping that Donaldson would walk the game off with a bomb. Alas...), as did Yonder Alonso, who did so on three pitches. This set the stage for Yandy Diaz to muscle a game into the win column for the Tribe, but he instead grounded out to Xander Bogaerts to extend the game. I had this sinking feeling that the chance for a win was squandered and the Red Sox would make the Tribe pay. But thanks to Tyler Olson, the Indians got another shot in the 11th.
The next inning started off with Yan Gomes’ 10 pitch at-bat that ended in an infield single. Gomes was seeing the ball incredibly well and narrowly missed hitting one to the porch. Then Greg Allen
bunted and gave away an out because baseball is stupid slapped a single through the hole on the left side of the infield to, once again, give the Tribe two runners on and no outs. This is where the fun began. With Rajai Davis running for Gomes and Greg Allen being a speedster of his own, both runners waited for the right pitch and they both took off. Davis had an amazing jump and Blake Swihart had no chance to nab him at third. With the winning run 90 feet away, the Sox elected to load the bases intentionally by walking Francisco Lindor to bring up Michael Brantley. Really, there was no good option for the Red Sox here. Dr. Smooth stepped to the plate and lofted a game winning single into left field for his sixth career walk-off win.
Tomorrow is the final regular season game at Progressive Field. After tomorrow, the next game played in Cleveland will be in the ALDS on the way to the World Series. Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun ride.