Cleveland nearly erased an 11-1 deficit in the final three frames but weren’t able to complete the improbable comeback in Friday’s night 11-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It was a nail-biter by the ninth inning, but Cleveland’s fate seemed all but sealed after a disastrous first inning for starter J.C. Mejía, who was pitching on short rest.
Mejía loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning. Colin Moran’s RBI groundout gave him his first out of the game but also plated a run to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. It only grew from there, as Jacob Stallings doubled to the gap in right-center to plate a pair of runs before Gregory Polanco deposited a two-run homer into the stands in right field. To his credit, Mejía notched a pair of strikeouts to at least survive the first inning, but the damage was done.
Desperate not to further exhaust the bullpen, manager Terry Francona kept Mejía in the game in spite of his struggles and he lasted five innings, only surrendering a solo home run to Bryan Reynolds over his final four frames of work. The Pirates did most of their damage against Mejía’s sinker, hammering it for a two-run double, a two-run homer, and a solo homer.
After a four-game sweep of the Orioles during which only one of their starting pitchers lasted more than four innings, Friday night’s blowout loss laid bare the volatility of this “rotation” Cleveland has cobbled together. This was the second time this month that Mejía has surrendered four or more runs in the first inning, and both Sam Hentges and Cal Quantrill have imploded at one point or another this season. When someone not named Aaron Civale is on the mound to start a game, Francona has to sit in the dugout and pray that his starter can make it through at least four or five innings and not blow the game wide open for the opposing team before making their exit.
Kyle Nelson didn’t help matters Friday night. Entering the game in the sixth inning, the left-handed reliever loaded the bases with two outs thanks to a pair of walks and a single. He then walked in a run, allowed another run to score on a hit-by-pitch, and gave up a bases-clearing double to Ke’Bryan Hayes to make it 11-1, effectively putting the game out of reach if it wasn’t already.
Cleveland’s lineup tried to claw their way back into the game, but their furious rally came up short. After mustering only four hits and one earned run against Pirates starter Chad Kuhl through the first six innings, the club went to work against formidable left-handed reliever Sam Howard in the seventh. Josh Naylor came to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs, dropping an RBI single into shallow left field. Everyone went station to station again on René Rivera’s RBI single, setting the stage for Cesar Hernandez’s first career grand slam to cut the deficit to 11-7.
GRAND. SLAM. #OurCLE pic.twitter.com/gj4YLUwwoQ— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) June 19, 2021
They had a chance to close the gap even further in the eighth inning after putting runners on first and second to start the inning, but Bobby Bradley struck out on three pitches and Josh Naylor lined out to right field. Bradley Zimmer was then hit by a pitch to load the bases with two outs and René Rivera came through with his third hit of the night, allowing all three runs to score after Zimmer was able to take home on a wild throw to third base. Ryan Lavarnway, pinch-hitting for Phil Maton, struck out to end the inning, leaving Rivera stranded at third.
Richard Rodriguez pitched around a pair of one-out singles in the ninth inning, striking out Bobby Bradley to end the game and seal the victory for Pittsburgh.
In horrible news, Jose Ramirez left the game in the eighth inning after taking a pitch off his back foot. With how popular the injured list has been in Cleveland of late, I fear the worst.