Any team can win when your ace pitches a shutout and your defense is stellar. But what happens when your ace can’t find the edge of the zone and your defense belly flops into an open lake? Teams that can still grind out wins in those types of games find themselves leading their division more often than not.
That’s exactly where Cleveland finds themselves after their 5-4, come-from-behind win over the Royals.
It was a slow start all around for the current AL Central leaders, as Royals hitters attacked Shane Bieber early in the count to tally some long innings, and the Cleveland offense had a tinge of “we’re about to be no-hit again” energy to them. Josh Naylor popped up a juicy hanging slider in the second inning that looked like a bad omen of things to come. He would eventually hit the go-ahead home run though, so it was all good.
Shane Bieber’s nine strikeouts over six innings is pretty good for most, but a weird night for one of the best pitchers in baseball. Royals batters consistently jumped on him early. By my count, 13 of them swung at first-pitch strikes from Bieber tonight. Three went for hits, and the only batter to swing and miss at a first-pitch ball in the zone was Michael Taylor.
For anyone else on #CutterWatch2021, Bieber increased his usage to 10 tonight. Most of those came after the first one of the night was a loud dud, when Hunter Dozier hit a high one 430 feet at 106.9 mph in the second inning.
Cleveland’s offense busted out of the potential no-hit bid in the top of the third when Andrés Giménez singled to left and Austin Hedges followed with a ground ball that got by the Royals shortstop. Giménez showed a lot of hustle on the Hedges hit when he alertly took third base after it was clear the ball was going to reach left field. The potential rally was snuffed out, though, when Cesar Hernandez and Jake Bauers struck out and flied out, respectively.
The goodwill didn’t last long for Giménez though, as in the very next inning he threw an errant ball to first base that Jake Bauers failed to scoop. Maybe Bauers could have come off the bag to stop the ball from getting by him, but it would have taken a hell of a reaction time. It’s fair to square the blame on Giménez here — it was simply a throw he should have made and rushed. Nicky Lopez reached third as a result and Ryan O’Hearn scored to extend the Royals’ lead to 2-0.
Royals starting pitcher Brady Singer returned the favor in the top of the fifth by whiffing a throw of his own that allowed Josh Naylor to reach base. Harold Ramirez followed with a groundout that moved Naylor to second. Naylor even stole third in the next at-bat, but it ended up going for naught as, once again, the final two batters were dispensed quickly.
By this point, Bieber already had to gut through multiple tough innings caused by a mix of his own doing and his defense’s mistakes. It got even worse in the fifth.
Bieber, who didn’t have his patented control all night long, accidentally hit Salvador Pérez. Immediately Pérez made it clear he wasn’t happy he was hit for the second time in this series. He quietly took his base, but his anger appeared to set the stage for some off-the-wall stuff happening later.
But first, Harold Ramirez threw one of the worst balls in from centerfield that I’ve seen in a while. I’m pretty sure Trevor Bauer threw one harder and farther out of Kauffman Stadium than Ramirez did trying to throw it back in when Jorge Soler hit a gapper between him and Eddie Rosario. The result of Ramirez’s throw was that Cesar Hernandez had to come waaay off the bag to get it. Rick Manning, a career outfielder in his playing days, was incensed on the broadcast at such a weak throw — he sounded like he wanted to suit up and do it himself. He might’ve passed for a modern-day defender based on what Cleveland showed today in the field.
Andrew Benintendi (who singled to lead off the inning) and Pérez both scored on the play to give Kansas City a 4-0 lead. With how much Cleveland’s offense struggled to hit Brady Singer through the first five innings, it felt like the slow march to the finish had begun.
In the top of the sixth, however, Jake Bauers drew a walk to innocently get a runner on base after Cesar Hernandez led off the frame by flying out. After that, José Ramírez was thrown at twice and hit once. Eddie Rosario responded with a double, which plated Bauers and Ramírez.
Franmil Reyes followed that double up with a walk, then things got wild.
With Josh Naylor at the plate, Brady Singer’s leg twitched before turning to try and pick off Eddie Rosario at second. An easy balk call, even for an Ángel Hernández-led crew.
I may only be saying this because it benefits us, but Angel Hernandez was absolutely right. Singer twitched. Watch his right leg.— Monte the Color Man (@Monte_Colorman) May 6, 2021
That’s a balk. pic.twitter.com/SYsEpb8cJ6
The Royals were not having it, though. Their manager, bench coach, and even their starting pitcher were all eventually ejected for arguing about it so loudly. And it was the correct call!
It could have been an attempt by Matheny to fire up his team. After all, the 4-0 lead they built up was quickly evaporating, already down to 4-2, so maybe they could use some good old-fashioned indignation to get going. It didn’t work, of course. Naylor grounded out to score Rosario from third to bring the tally to 4-3.
Bieber came out to pitch the sixth inning, finishing with just a touch over 100 pitches thrown. Unlike a few of his other outings, including a career-high 119 pitches against the Yankees, these were not 100 stress-free pitches. He labored, he grinded, he grittied. But damnit, he did it. His gutsy performance not only kept Cleveland within striking distance to win, but allowed the bullpen usage to be kept to a minimum. Bryan Shaw, Nick Wittgren, and James Karinchak pitched three combined perfect innings to close out the game.
José Ramírez hit a bomb in the eighth to tie the game, followed by Josh Naylor’s go-ahead dinger in the ninth. I could tell you about them, but they’re much prettier in video form.
The slams this ball over the wall and ties it up! pic.twitter.com/WI4jWjfFdk— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) May 6, 2021
In the end, Cleveland won their first one-run game of the season. This was the kind of game they needed to prove they could win when not everything is working at 100%. I’d say they proved it.
- Eddie Rosario has rightfully gotten a pass for his slow start because we all know he’s a streaky hitter. Well, good news! He’s on a good streak now. With another two-hit performance tonight, he is riding a three-game hitting streak and has five hits in his last 13 plate appearances.
- No 100 mph Emmanuel Clase cutters tonight (boo), but James Karinchak earned his third save of the season by closing out the game. He threw five curveballs and three of them were either called strikes or whiffs. He’s an animal.
- Cleveland’s hardest-hit ball of the night was a 109.3 mph groundout by Harold Ramirez. Go figure.
- Austin Hedges had some ugly swings at the plate, but he also made some excellent plays behind the dish, including throwing out the trailing runner on a double steal attempt. Just a bullet throw from his knees after deciding he couldn’t catch the guy at third.
Somehow, the Royals managed to be mad about the one correct Ángel Hernández has ever made.
The AL Central-leading Cleveland baseballers will turn to Triston McKenzie in tomorrow’s getaway game against Danny Duffy. The bullpen should be good and rested after Bieber’s performance tonight if they need to swoop in and save McKenzie from another implosion.