Mike Clevinger, like the packed crowd at Progressive Field, came out fired up against the Minnesota Twins. So much so that a first-inning home run couldn’t sway anyone in attendance, and the crowd still roared on Clevinger’s final out of the night: a dramatic, fearless strikeout of Max Kepler that ended with Clevinger and his catcher celebrating synchronously.
The 97.5 mph strike, barely in the upper part of the zone, that Clevinger threw was one of his hardest of the night, but it didn’t reach the 98.1 mph he peaked at in the fifth. It also wasn’t Clevinger’s last at-bat of the night, as he started the sixth only to walk Jorge Polanco — a mistake that would be saved by Adam Cimber. But it was damn impressive, and should have been a send-off into a W.
Cimber himself induced a pair of ground balls (with a hit Nelson Cruz in-between) to conclude his inning of work, and Nick Goody followed with an innocent enough looking four batters to start the seventh.
Unfortunately, things began to unravel when Goody got a little anxious on a Miguel Sano groundball hit right to him and couldn’t make a throw to first, and three batters later Franicsco Lindor almost made a spectacular play to throw out Max Kepler, but he was a half-second late. A batter after that, Oscar Mercado terribly misplayed a Jorge Polanco fly ball and suddenly the Twins had their first lead of the night at 4-3. If even one of those things broke the Indians’ way, maybe this game ends differently. But it didn’t, and the bullpen as a whole — sans Adam Cimber — looked pretty bad.
Even Tyler Clippard gave up a solo shot before retiring three straight to cap off a night of futility.
It feels weird to speak so negatively of this game, because it started out so well. Clevinger looked fantastic, José Ramírez dazzled at the plate and with several great plays at third base, and overall it looked like the Indians would be able to cruise to a 4.5-game deficit in the AL Central. Carlos Santana even homered! This was set up to be a storybook return for the Indians and they spoiled it.
It’s worth mentioning that the bullpen wasn’t the only culprit this game. Mercado’s aforementioned blunder in the outfield was a huge misstep (figuratively and literally), and aside from one squeaker of a hit in the first inning he looked overwhelmed at the plate. Similarly, opposing pitchers already have several novels and an HBO series planned on how to beat Bobby Bradley. It involves a lot of breaking balls, and not a lot else. And it works.