With high-priced free agents Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher on the shelf for the last couple weeks and last few days respectively, one would think that Progressive Field was burning. Instead, that smoke you’re seeing is coming from the Tribe bats, who have stayed warm without their leadoff and cleanup hitters. Actually, they’ve heated up and diversified the contributions. Last night, it was ninth hitter Drew Stubbs in the starring role. The Tribe centerfielder had four hits, three of which were doubles, and secured the game-winning walkoff double high off the left field wall as the Tribe won their fifth straight game of the year 7-6 in 10 innings.
Justin Masterson was on the mound, and while that’s never a bad thing for the Indians, he didn’t have command of his stuff early. Ron Gardenhire wisely stacked the Minnesota lineup with seven left-handed hitters. His fastball flattened out over the plate a couple times in the first two innings, and the Twins made some long, loud outs. Justin Morneau put the Twins on the board after singles by Dozier and Mauer to leadoff the game. A double play ball got Masterson out of any further trouble. In the second, it was a four-seamer flat and out over the plate that Trevor Plouffe delivered into the right field seats to give the Twins a 2-0 lead. I think Minnesota had the right strategy in jumping on Masterson early in the count as he tried to get strikes over with his four-seamer. To his credit, though, Masterson settled down over the next three innings, stranding two runners in the third and one in the fifth on a strikeout wild pitch that forced him to retire four in the inning. While he didn’t have his top shelf stuff, he certainly battled and kept the Tribe in the game.
The Tribe didn’t waste much time getting back to even. In the third, it was Jason Kipnis who smacked a two-run triple to dead center after the bottom of the lineup, Yan Gomes and Stubbs, reached with singles off lefty Pedro Hernandez. The Indians did, however, squander several opportunities to push another run or two across in key situations throughout the middle and late innings. After the Kipnis triple, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a too-shallow fly ball with one out that prevented Kipnis from scoring. After a Reynolds walk, Santana flew out to strand two. Again in the fifth, Cabrera grounded out to short on the first pitch with one out and prevented Brantley from scoring. This time, however, Mark Reynolds picked up his teammate. Reynolds crushed a fastball halfway up the left field bleachers for his MLB-leading ninth homer and gave the Tribe the lead in the fifth.
After the Twins inched closer at 4-3 in the sixth, Jason Kipnis took advantage again and placed a beautiful 2-out bunt single down the third base line that scored a run. Cabrera then swung at the first pitch once more and flew out to end the inning with runners on the corners. After Kipnis delivered again with a RBI fielder’s choice on what should have been an inning-ending double play that was bobbled to tie the game, Cabby swung at another first pitch and popped out lazily to the shortstop. Asdrubal was 0-for-4 and stranded six runners on the night, and the last at-bat he had in the eighth was downright pathetic.
There were some head-scratching moves in this game by the Tribe skipper, though everything eventually worked out in this one. In the seventh, Tito went to Cody Allen with two outs and a runner on instead of normal seventh-inning, high-leverage situation guy Joe Smith to face left-handed Chris Parmelee. He had lefty Rich Hill still at his disposal, but Tito argued post-game that he could either have Allen face Parmelee or have slugger Josh Willingham pinch-hit for him if he brought in Hill. The lefty-righty debate is a fair one, but it still doesn’t answer why Smith wasn’t used instead. With a day of rest, the Indians were fully prepared to go with Smith-Pestano-Perez 7-8-9. Parmelee made Tito, Allen, and the Tribe pay with a two-run blast to right that gave the Twins a 6-5 lead in the seventh. All of this came after Masterson retired the first two batters of the inning before the Twins beat the shift twice on Morneau and Ryan Doumit singles. The second single was placed right where Asdrubal would have been without a shift and right where third baseman Mike Aviles would have been in the shift had a passed ball not sent Morneau to second.
The Indians had a great opportunity to tie the game and take the lead in the bottom of the eighth. Against bullpen arm Jared Burton, Mike Aviles (three hits on the day) led off with a single. With Jason Giambi pinch-hitting for Gomes, he sent one deep onto the warning track in right-center field, missing a go-ahead homer by mere feet. Stubbs then laced a double into right, placing runners at third and second. The Twins chose to walk Brantley to load the bases and setup the double play. That’s where Kipnis grounded into the aforementioned RBI fielder’s choice to tie it. 1 After the inning ended, with Nick Swisher still on the shelf and Lonnie Chisenhall and Ezequiel Carrera the available position players, Tito sent the DH Mark Reynolds out to first base, eliminating their use of the DH for the rest of the game. Ryan Raburn has 13 career games at first, and I may have done that, but fortunately, the game only went on long enough for the pitcher’s spot to come up just once.
As we went to extras tied, Chris Perez entered the tie game 2 , and CP danced around a single and a walk to put a zero up on the board. That set the stage for the bottom of the tenth. Aviles once again started an inning with a single to right. With the pitcher’s spot due up, Francona sent newly-reacquired Ezequiel Carrera up to the dish to do what he does best, bunt. Zeke laid down a beauty, getting Aviles over to second. Stubbs then took control, blasting a Casey Fien changeup halfway up the left field wall scoring Aviles.
With their five wins straight, the Indians are back to .500 at 13-13. This afternoon, Scott Kazmir takes on Kevin Correia.
Photo: Mark Shapiro, @MarkShapiro
It’s possible that Kipnis would’ve beat out the double play anyway, though they would’ve had a chance to end the inning.
It’s something I’m strongly against, but most managers do it anyway. Also, this is the second time that Tito has used him in the 10th in a tie game instead of the 9th in a tie game when the situation was the same.