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Cleveland loses battle of the aces in familiar fashion

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An incredible pitching performance ruined by a lack of run support. So it goes

New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Taken on its own, Cleveland being three-hit by one of the best starting pitchers in baseball and losing 2-1 is nothing to worry about. No shame in that. Zoom out, though, and you see a familiar pattern looming over this game, as it has for the other 18. Whether they are facing a guy with 1,400 career strikeouts or 40 — they just can’t seem to hit when it counts.

The pitching duel of Shane Bieber vs. Gerrit Cole was exactly as billed, at least. Both sort of struggled with command early, and you could sense when each of them locked in. For a while there, it looked like Gerrit Cole was going to pitch a perfect Maddux no-hitter complete game rope-a-dope with his shutdown stuff over the first three innings, but Roberto Pérez put the brakes on it early with his first double of the season.

For Bieber, his lock-in moment came against the leadoff batter in the second inning, Aaron Hicks. After struggling to throw strikes through the first inning (about as much as Shane Bieber actually “struggles,” anyway), he quickly fell behind Hicks, 3-0, with two fastballs and a curveball off the plate. He threw four straight heaters to strike him out and was off to the races from there.

Bieber retired the next eight batters in order before Hicks got his revenge with a solo home run to lead off the fifth. Three batters later, he allowed a home run against Rougned Odor, who seems to own Cleveland while wearing a Yankees uniform. Odor took a changeup low in the zone and launched it 426 feet. Those two dingers, while not insurmountable, were even more devastating because Cleveland managed to actually score a run off Gerrit Cole in the previous inning.

José Ramírez led off the bottom of the fourth with a triple that would have been a home run if Aaron Judge wasn’t a giant freak of nature, which I feel like I’m allowed to say because I’m an inch taller than him. In a play eerily reminiscent of what he did to rob Francisco Lindor in the 2017 ALDS, Judge reached up over the short right-field wall and pulled Ramírez’s ball back onto the field. Luckily Ramírez was hustling the whole way and was able to make it a triple.

Eddie Rosario singled him home in the next at-bat before Franmil Reyes and Josh Naylor brought the rally to a screeching halt with back-to-back strikeouts.

The Bieber-Cole tussle continued until both eclipsed 100 pitches and were replaced after the seventh. Bieber threw a career-high 119 pitches as Terry Francona allowed him to work out of his own jam, which included allowing Clint Frazier and Rougned Odor to walk. He did, of course, but many questioned the decision to leave him in for so many pitches in a losing contest in April. I think I come down on the side of “he was fine so leave him in,” but it’s still a little weird.

Bieber also had to deal with this nonsense:

... so maybe it was worth it to let him get the frustration of that terrible umpiring out of his mind before his next start.

As usual, Bieber finished the night as primarily a three-pitch pitcher with his four-seamer, slider, and knuckle-curve all being thrown about a third of the time. His cutter, which has seemingly vanished, showed up twice, and his changeup was thrown three times and was called for a strike once. One of the other times was a souvenir for a guy with a very large glove.

Bieber’s slider led the way with 17 called strikes and whiffs on 25 swings. It was especially effective against a couple of old friends in Clint Frazier and Gio Urshela. Frazier saw it late in the count, early in the count, up in the zone, down in the zone — pretty much wherever and whenever Bieber felt like using it, he did, and it was a strike most of the time. Urshela saw seven sliders, most down and away, and at best he was able to put one in play for an out.

Getting shut down by Gerrit Cole is normal. It’s just what you do when you’re clocking in for the night to face a guy who throws 99 mph with three incredible offspeed and breaking pitches. But Justin Wilson and Jonathan Loaisiga? Those are guys you should probably hit when your ace pitches a gem and all you had to do was get Roberto Pérez home from second, or hit a dang home run, to tie the game and give yourself a chance.

They didn’t, and the final 10 batters went down without much of a fight outside of Roberto’s walk in the eighth.

Corner pieces

  • The hardest hit ball by a Cleveland batter was also the second-to-last, as José Ramírez scorched one right into the teeth of the shift at 108.4 mph. It was a ball with an .890 xBA and a perfect illustration of Cleveland’s season so far.
  • No one looked good offensively, but Cleveland’s top-two hitters combined to go 0-for-8 with a strikeout, and neither has a batting average over .181 right now. There are more in-depth ways to explain why this is bad, but I think you get the point.
  • As previously mentioned, Bieber threw two cutters tonight, just his second and third of the season. One was a ball well off the plate, and the other was a groundout by Kyle Higashioka.

Wait, what?

Cleveland had a chance to bury the Yankees and extend their woes of the 2021 season, but instead, they’ve lost three straight and probably jumpstarted a lengthy winning streak for the Bronx Bombers. Feels bad.

What’s next

Cleveland will hope to avoid a dreaded four-game sweep tomorrow at 1:10 p.m. ET with Triston McKenzie on the mound.