The Cleveland Indians did it again, somehow.
Trailing 3-1 late against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Tribe mounted yet another rally, scoring three runs in the ninth inning to claim their third walkoff win this week.
This was a game that appeared all but over before the ninth inning. Up to that point, the Indians had only managed one hit all night and even that was a bunt single by Delino DeShields in the seventh inning, breaking up what had been a combined no-hitter for Pittsburgh. The Tribe’s lone score had come in the first inning after walking the bases loaded to start the game and scratching across a run on a double play. The Pirates had distributed nine walks through the first eight innings, but kept the Indians from capitalizing at nearly every opportunity.
Then came the Tribe’s tenth walk of the game, courtesy of Tyler Naquin in the final frame. Jordan Luplow, already a hero once this week, stepped to the plate and drilled a double off the wall in left center to score Naquin from first, cutting the deficit down to 3-2. Mike Freeman, pinch-hitting for Sandy Leon, followed with a flyout to center, but fortunately Delino DeShields was able to pick him up with a liner up the middle to bring home Luplow and tie the game. DeShields stole second but Francisco Lindor lined out to right, putting the pressure on César Hernández with two outs. And Hernández delivered, sending a sharp hit down the first base line and into right field to plate the game-winning run.
It was a wild ending to a bizarre night that seemed doomed to be defined by the extraordinary levels of offensive futility experienced by the Indians.
Pirates starter Mitch Keller walked the first three batters he faced, so of course Carlos Santana swung at the first pitch he saw, grounding into a run-scoring double play. Franmil Reyes ensured no further runs would be scored, swinging at his first pitch as well and grounding out to the pitcher. In total, Keller walked eight batters on the night, seven of them in the first three innings alone. He pitched five innings and threw 98 pitches, 49 of which were balls. He literally threw as many strikes as he did balls. Naturally, the Indians couldn’t must even a single hit against Keller. Not one hit. They even loaded the bases twice, but one run was all they could score.
As if daring the Tribe to score, the Pirates even put in Sam Howard, sporting a 40.50 ERA in his last two relief appearances, in the seventh inning. No luck.
But as you know by now, count this team out at your own peril.
On the mound, Carlos Carrasco did what he could to give the Indians a chance. His biggest mistake of the night was a change-up down and in to Gregory Polanco, who smoked a 113 mph line shot into the right field seats for a two-run homer to give the Pirates the lead. Carrasco only gave up three hits and struck out eight, but he also walked three batters. He nearly came undone in the sixth inning, loading the bases with no outs thanks to a single and two walks. But Carrasco managed to escape by striking out Josh Bell and then induce an inning-ending double play.
Phil Maton rebounded from a rough couple innings to contribute 1.1 scoreless innings of relief, using his cutter and four-seamer to effectively avoid the Pirates’ bats. Óliver Pérez was not so fortunate, as the Pirates teed off on his sinker for two hits and an insurance run in the eighth. Adam Plutko pitched a scoreless ninth, because sure why not.
What a week. And as of this writing, both the Twins and the White Sox are trailing in their Friday night games, which means the Indians could start the weekend tied with Chicago for second and one game back from Minnesota for the division lead. Buckle up.