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Bad sequencing dooms Cleveland in 6-3 loss to Astros

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Eventually you have to hit with the bases loaded, you just do

Houston Astros v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Oscar Mercado Game, as historians will refer to it, was a 6-3 loss to the Astros in which Cleveland forgot how to hit with the bases loaded and the titular Mercado had a chance to be the hero and blew it.

It really is a shame that Oscar Mercado swung and missed on a 3-2 pitch with a runner on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth — hopefully, that won’t be all that anyone remembers about him from this game. He also tripled, singled twice, and walked as Cleveland’s most threatening presence at the plate Friday night. This was the Mercado we have all dreamed about since he showed flashes of it early in his rookie 2019 campaign. Maybe not the most polished or hard-hitting batter out there, but hustling every at-bat and scraping together enough hits to be effective.

It may surprise you (or maybe it won’t, I don’t know), but three-hit games aren’t all that rare for Mercado. This was already the 11th of his career and his first since Sept. 14 against the Twins.

Franmil Reyes was also big and scary in his return from the injured list, going 3-for-5 with two strikeouts. The most impressive thing, though, was watching him absolutely bust it down the line on a groundball to the shortstop in the eighth inning. He beat out a good throw on a dribbler to keep the inning alive with two outs to load the bases.

Cesar Hernandez knocked in the only runs of the game with a three-run homer in the sixth that cut the Astros’ 6-0 lead in half and gave all of Cleveland hope that a comeback was a possibility.

Unfortunately, despite outhitting the Astros 12-9, they came away with only those three runs. Cleveland finished all but one inning with a runner stranded on base, and three times a home frame ended with the bases loaded. Ernie Clement swung and missed on strike three with the bases jacked in the first inning, Amed Rosario flew out in the fourth, and Harold Ramirez wasted Franmil’s base-running effort in the eighth with a strikeout of his own.

Bobby Bradley, like everyone else, blew it more than once with runners on base. He did also draw a walk in the first inning, though. And he did so by laying off a barrage of off-speed pitches that were tantalizingly close to the zone. Drawing a walk isn’t as sexy or good as hitting a 440-foot dinger, but seeing Bradley lay off these pitches that he would be more likely to swing and miss on than blast out of the stadium was a welcome sight.

But overall, once again, this team remains eminently frustrating. When they aren’t winning, they are losing in the worst possible ways.

The offense’s poor timing deserves a lot of blame for this game, but Sam Hentges also deserves a huge chunk of it. The rookie allowed six earned runs in 2.2 innings, with three strikeouts and two walks. He threw 65 pitches and induced just five whiffs and a handful of called strikes before he couldn’t find his way out of a lengthy third inning. An inning in which the Astros had multiple runners on base multiple times and managed to get them home. A novel idea in today’s game, but one I hope Cleveland tries in the near future.

Maybe things would have been different if the Astros batters didn’t give themselves such a large cushion early on, but the Cleveland bullpen was outstanding at keeping their lead at six or under through 6.1 innings. Trevor Stephan, Nick Wittgren, Bryan Shaw, and Emmanuel Clase combined to strike out eight batters with three hits and no earned runs allowed. Stephen was especially brilliant, pitching a scoreless 2.1 innings in relief of Hentges.

Cleveland has now dropped four straight, and things aren’t going to get any easier as they’ll face this same lineup with Jake Odorizzi and Zack Greinke on the mound over the weekend.