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Tyler Naquin saves Indians from extra-innings nightmare

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This game was a snoozer, saved by Tyler Naquin digging a ball out of the dirt to slap home a win

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Think about it. In another universe, you might not even know it, but you’re about to endure a 17-inning disaster of a game if Tyler Naquin doesn’t pull a ball at his ankles and hit it into right field. In that game, several relievers throw 30+ pitches, the offense strikes out half a dozen more times, and the woo birds howl uncontrollably as the calendar rolls to May 4. You crave sleep, or death, but neither come. You accept your fate.

Luckily you exist in this reality, and Leonys Martin crossed the plate to end the game in the ninth, instead.

Terry Francona reportedly had a meeting with the team prior to tonight’s game to reinforce the theme of not giving up on themselves, and fighting through adversity. Surely he meant more big picture adversity like losing two of your best pitchers and none of your lineup functioning properly, but if there was anything about overcoming a rough individual game to find a way to win, the message clearly landed loud and clear tonight.

No team with an offense that performed as poorly as the Indians did tonight should win most games, it doesn’t matter who is on the mound for them. But in this case, Shane Bieber gutted out over 100 pitches, Jordan Luplow launched a missile, and a masked hero came off the bench to win it all.

After a ninth-inning that started with a lead-off walk for Mariners reliever Anthony Swarzak — and a whole lot of anger directed at a reasonable strike zone — that masked hero revealed himself as Tyler Naquin and he took this little gem and punched it into right.

What we typically refer to as a “ball.”
Baseball Savant

That’s the textbook definition of in a wheelhouse for Naquin, who historically struggles with high fastballs but kills these low looping off-speed pitches. This one, in particular, was a slider that didn’t, y’know, slide very much. He killed it.

Swarzak clearly didn’t have it, and the Indians sat patiently waiting for him to put himself into trouble. Everyone except José Ramírez, of course, who guessed wrong on a couple pitches and watched a pair of meatballs over the lower half of the plate while he swung out of his shoes and missed on a high fastball. Swarzak had no problem pumping every pitch against José into the zone. Luckily, he wanted nothing to do with Francisco Lindor and Carlos — both of whom were walked on four pitches.

José’s rough at-bat was more indicative of the offense tonight and the patience of Lindor or the heroics of Naquin. The Indians struck out 11 times and only had three hits (all in one inning) prior to the ninth. Lefty Yusei Kikuchi dominated the Indians with a fastball that peaked at 94.4 miles per hour, yet induced 20 strikes on its own. Naquin’s game-winner was the hardest-hit ball of the night at 110.3 miles per hour.

On the mound, Shane Bieber got back on track with his most pitches ever in a game and just one walk in 7.2 innings. He got six strikeouts and allowed a home run, but the lack of free bases is the most encouraging for a pitcher that thrives on not allowing baserunners like Bieber. He got a bit of a boost thanks to a generous strike zone from the home plate ump, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

This wasn’t the most exciting game of the year by any stretch — even as a win — but at least we got to watch Jordan Luplow show off a canon in right field, and Francisco Lindor douse his teammates in Gatorade. That’s what it’s all about.