If you’re going to make fans back home stay up past midnight, at least make it exciting, right? That’s what Cleveland did tonight, with some home runs and shaky bullpen work that was enough to make one forget that the calendar flipped to July 17 sometime around the eighth inning.
While things looked good for Cleveland for several innings late in the game, it was the last batter that ultimately dashed their hopes of coming out of the All-Star break with a win. Cleveland fought back from a 3-0 hole early to eventually take a 4-3 lead in the seventh on the back of home runs from Roberto Pérez and Bradley Zimmer.
Pérez’s lead-off homer in the fifth to put Cleveland on the board marked his third-straight game with a home run.
For Zimmer, that was just his third extra-base hit in 39 games this season. He saw two changeups from Yusmeiro Petit in that at-bat, one inside and one outside. The first came in on him and he swung and missed. The second was in middle of the plate on the outside edge and he crushed it — 111 mph, 424 feet. It was the third hardest-hit ball of the night behind Matt Olson’s 111.2 mph double and a 112.2 mph José Ramírez groundout, and the furthest hit of the night by a long shot.
It wasn’t enough though, as Emmanuel Clase’s pre-All-Star Break struggles continued with an Elvis Andrus single and Jed Lowrie two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to give the A’s a walk-off win out of the break.
Cleveland’s starter, Eli Morgan, looked like vintage Eli Morgan — as much as a rookie can be such a thing. His changeup was brilliant and unhittable the first time through the order, but once batters were able to start sitting on anything slow in their second go-around, he was hit hard. Still, he battled through some runners on the bases and didn’t give up a home run until Mitch Moreland led off the fourth with a dinger to put the A’s up, 3-0, at the time.
Morgan gave Cleveland five solid innings, with six strikeouts, a walk, and three earned runs. That’s more than they’ve gotten out of a lot of starters this season, and he was able to prove yet again there is something to his methodical combination of a fastball that hovers around 90 mph and a changeup with enough movement to keep hitters off balance — at least once, anyway. His real jump will come when he develops a slider or curveball that can fool major-league hitters and can be used beyond the second inning.
Phil Maton provided an excellent inning of work, with a double and a walk as his only blemishes to go along with a pair of strikeouts and a flyout. Bryan Shaw had (ahem) a slightly more difficult time getting through the seventh, but with the bases loaded and one out, he managed to work out of it by striking out Mitch Moreland and Sean Murphy in back-to-back at-bats.
Overall, yes, the fault of this game lands at the feet of Emmanuel Clase first. If he had any kind of deception on a 100 mph cutter, maybe Jed Lowrie would have walked off the field with his head down instead of rounding the bases in celebration. But Cleveland’s offense also blew multiple chances to score — again.
One of them was because Elvis Andrus made a phenomenal diving catch to double up a running Bradley Zimmer in the third inning. You could make an argument that Zimmer should have stopped instead of trying to run when Cesar Hernandez’s ill-fated line drive was hit near the shortstop. But he didn't, and he was thrown out instead of coming around the score on Amed Rosario's double a batter later. Another costly running error in a long list of them this season for Cleveland.
Then there is José Ramírez ending that third inning by blistering a ball ... straight into the ground.
Or Franmil Reyes leading off the second inning with a rocket ... hit straight to the first baseman.
I think it’s also worth noting that pitching James Karinchak against the bottom of the A’s lineup (Seth Brown, Tony Kemp, and Ramon Laureano), then throwing Emmanuel Clase out there to face down Elvis Andrus, Matt Olson, and Jed Lowrie was a poor decision on Terry Francona’s part. Tito claims there are no set closer roles (Karinchak even has nine saves this season), but pairing the worse of the two relievers with the better part of the lineup makes it look like the role are more set in stone than they probably should be. This should have been an easy decision to have Clase pitch the eighth and Karinchak pitch the ninth.
Maybe it would have been a good confidence booster for Clase if he pitched a clean inning in his first appearance of the second half, but the alternative is what happened tonight. He looked bad, and now he probably feels bad. I feel bad. You feel bad. We all feel bad for ice cream.
It’s 1 a.m.
Anyway, I’m glad baseball is back from the All-Star break, but I guess I had hoped Cleveland’s fortunes would change with a fresh wind behind them. It clearly hasn’t. Not yet, anyway.