Let’s just in medias res this recap and skip straight to the part you care about.
Bottom of the ninth, runner on second, two outs, first base open. Amed Rosario just struck out — missed a ball way out of the zone, Salvador Perez had to go and get it and make an excellent throw to get Rosario out at first.
The Royals, clearly intimated by José Ramírez’s strut out of the dugout, opt to intentionally walk him to put runners on first and second. Needing only one out, they think they have a better shot at getting big Franmil Reyes out. Personally, I’d almost always rather just pitch to the guy and give him nothing good to hit and see if you get him fishing, but I understand the logic in thinking that José is just too dangerous and Franmil Reyes still might not be up to speed following a lengthy injured list stint. Ramírez may have looked overmatched in a couple of at-bats, but Reyes struck out earlier, too. It wasn’t a slam-dunk decision either way.
A strikeout will do for the Royals, a pop fly, maybe even a dribbler anywhere on the infield. You know Reyes is not going to beat you with his legs.
Good news is Reyes also uses a bat, and he swings it very hard. In this case, he hit a four-seamer from Greg Holland 435 feet to end the game, and in doing so, he ended Cleveland’s nine-game losing streak.
The big man trotted around the bases, received his customary bath at home plate, and was all smiles with his teammates enjoying their first win of July.
So, how did we get here? It wasn’t quick, and it sure wasn’t easy.
Zach Plesac got the start for Cleveland, his first since a tragic shirt removal mishap costed him over a month of pitching. He looked good through the first three innings of his outing. Brilliant even, through parts of it. It was refreshing to watch a good pitcher dominate a bad lineup the way he should. He attacked Royals hitters early on, dotted some corners, and was unscathed through 2.2 innings.
Things got a little rocky when he allowed back-to-back hard hits from Michael A. Taylor and Whit Merrifield to plate the first run of the game, but he was fine. Even with his two solo shots given up in the fourth (one to Carlos Santana, the other Hunter Dozier), I think he was still fine. He was clearly tired at the end — keep in mind he only threw 4.2 rehab innings before making the jump back to the majors. Two of his mistake pitches were clearly breaking balls that didn’t get as long as he wanted them. Again, likely a sign of fatigue as he approached his lowered pitch limit.
Where was Cleveland’s offense by this point in the fourth? Nowhere to be seen. Danny Duffy thankfully lost his no-hitter in the third when Oscer Mercado doubled to lead off the inning, Bradley Zimmer walked after him, and Amed Rosario singled two batters later. Unfortunately, this team just still can’t get it done consistently with runners in scoring position.
That third inning was cut short by bad luck when Cesar Hernandez hit a hard ball to second that close enough for a double play to get Mercado at third and Zimmer at second. Everyone did what they were supposed to — Mercado made sure the ball wasn’t going to be caught before running — but there just wasn’t anything they could really do.
Cleveland finally got on the board in the fourth when Bobby Bradley homered. It was his first time leaving the park since his two-homer game against Detroit on June 30, and it gave Cleveland at least a little bit of hope.
That hope was short-lived, however, as Cleveland’s futility with runners in scoring position continued. They ended the fifth and sixth innings with multiple runners on base and went down 1-2-3 in the seventh. It wasn’t until the eighth that they finally found ways to score with walks from Franmil Reyes and Bobby Bradley, and finally a three-run bomb from Roberto Pérez to give them their first lead of the game.
That, too, was short-lived as Carlos Santana — that dastardly little scamp — hit his second homer of the game off of James Karinchak to tie it in the top of the ninth. It was a high four-seamer that caught just a bit too much of the plate and was launched 402 feet.
Karinchak may be good but he’s not fully immunized against blowing leads, as he did tonight. He induced a called strike or whiff 29% of the time, though, and settled down after Santana’s homer and a Hunter Dozier double two batters later. That was enough to set up Cleveland’s dramatic walk-off, loss streak-snapping win.
One thing to note from this recap: Three of the game’s biggest contributors just recently came off the IL. Plesac just returned today and kept his team in the game through four innings, while Pérez and Reyes came off last week and each homered in the win.
Health is no small thing to take for granted in baseball, and Cleveland is finally getting it back.