As an homage to Corey Kluber’s many years with the organization, Cleveland made their starting pitcher sweat out a close game with minimal run support. This time, like many times in Kluber’s career, it somehow ended with a victory.
What Aaron Civale did wasn’t quite the majesty of throwing a no-hitter against a team on the same night they are giving away your bobblehead from the one inning you pitched for them the year prior, but his eight-strikeout performance over seven innings was arguably his best of the year.
Civale was dealing all game long with each of his six pitches, including his new split-finger changeup being used seven times and inducing a called strike or whiff three times. The cutter was by far his most dominant pitch, used 30 times and ending as a called strike or whiff 13 times.
The Angels only scorched a handful of balls out of Civale’s hand tonight, the hardest being from the opposing pitcher, Shohei Ohtani, who lined out on a 110.1 mph fastball.
While Civale was indeed dealing, the story of the game was almost never about him. Early on, it was Ohtani’s slumping velocity, with a fastball sitting 5.3 mph slower than compared to his yearly average. His splitter was a full 6.6 mph slower but wasn’t hit hard very often. If there is a weakness in the two-way star’s game, it’s that he issues far too many walks. Tonight it was just two and they came spaced out enough that it didn’t impact much.
What did have an impact was Jake Bauers taking Ohtani 397 feet to deep left-center field. Bauers only saw two pitches that at-bat: a first-pitch cutter up and away that he spit at, and a fastball lacking Ohtani’s usual sizzle that was right down the center of the plate. Good for Bauers for being able to square up a home run — just ask the Rangers (and Cleveland twice) how hard that is — but it wasn’t exactly a pitch he had to dig out of the dirt or anything.
Another storyline that took the spotlight away from Civale was Josh Naylor’s continued grip on all of our hearts. When he’s not cheering on local media members for finally figuring out Zoom after 14 months of remote work, he’s casually making brilliant defensive plays and extending hitting streaks to three games.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, after Kurt Suzuki led off with a single, David Fletcher lined a ball to right field, which landed right in front of a sliding Naylor. Could Naylor have taken a better route, been a little faster, or dove straight at the ball for an out? Maybe, but that’s not the point here. Naylor made up for whatever shortcomings he had in that particular play by stopping the ball from getting by him, scooping it up, and throwing an absolute dart to second base to get the force out before Suzuki realized what was going could scamper to second. The result was the rare fielder’s choice to right field.
That play could not have come at a more pivotal time, either, with a one-run lead and Emmanuel Clase, looking as shaky as ever, on the mound. Speaking of which, Clase wasn’t the closer tonight. Is that weird? We’ll see what Terry Francona says after the game, but I suspect he’s finally sticking to his word that there is no set bullpen structure for Cleveland’s stable of arms. Tonight he opted to use Clase against the weaker part of the Angel’s lineup, and he saved James Karinchak — who is by most measures the better pitcher — for the heart of the order. It’s a heart that is much less scary without Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, but still plenty frightening with Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh lurking.
Karinchak made the strategy pay off by striking out two of the four batters he faced and letting Cleveland head back home with a nice little two-game winning streak on their minds instead of a 2-1 series loss.
- Austin Hedges was out there throwing lasers again. After pulling off one of the prettiest strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out plays ever last night, he turned around tonight and nabbed a running Ohtani and almost got another out on a close play a few innings earlier.
- When you think Franmil Reyes, you usually think big ding dong dingers, but tonight his biggest hit was a double that he pulled on the ground down the left-field line. More of that, too, please.
- José Ramírez just quietly had another amazing, vintage José Ramírez game but it felt weird to not mention him so I’m doing it now. He’s so good.
- Right after Naylor’s excellent play in the outfield, Amed Rosario made the weird decision to try and throw to first when there was no chance at a play and his legs were already tied up with the base-runner. The ball sailed past Bauers at first but luckily Jose Iglesias didn’t bother running. Still, Rick Manning in the booth sounded like he wanted to hop on the next flight to LA and throttle Rosario for trying to make that throw.
Amed Rosario was tagged right in the junk on his slide into home in the seventh inning.
A well-deserved day off tomorrow before returning home to face the Twins over the weekend. And remember, the Twins and Angels are playing a doubleheader tomorrow that will require an already reeling Twins squad to fly to the West Coast and back to Cleveland in the span of roughly 36 hours and play two baseball games. They should be good and tired by Friday.