If this one was any indication of the nail-biting nature of the stretch run just to get to October, it is going to be a long 10 days for Tribe fans. But here is hoping that the payoff will be as good as it was last night.
The Indians welcomed in the Houston Astros, baseball’s worst team. You know things are bad when former Tribe flame out #1 pick Trevor Crowe is not only their centerfielder, but was in the lineup hitting third. I fancy myself as someone who knows baseball as well as anyone, and even I had never heard of half of the players manager Bo Porter was trotting out there. Seeing what I saw last night, there is no excuse for the Indians not to sweep this sad sack group.
It looked early as if the Indians would make this one easy on us. Nick Swisher got things started with a one out double and scored on Jason Kipnis’s RBI single – a good sign considering Jason’s struggles of late. Things would stop right there after Houston lefty Dallas Keuchel got Carlos Santana to fly out followed by a Yan Gomes K.
With Ubaldo Jimenez dealing, everyone had to feel good about the Tribe’s chances – there’s another Ubaldo-centric sentence I never thought I would write. However, Houston loaded the bases with nobody out in the second on three straight singles. Jimenez would bare down and strikeout Brett Wallace for the first out. L.J. Hoes would tie the game with a sac fly, but that is where the Astros scoring would end.
From that point forward, Keuchel and Jimenez would take turns putting up zero after zero. The Tribe certainly didn’t lack chances, but they could never push that lead run across. Kipnis grounded into double plays in the third and sixth behind Swisher singles. Keuchel pitched seven strong innings, scattering seven hits while striking out seven and walking just one. Meanwhile, Jimenez dodged trouble as well thanks to an Astros lineup that loved to swing and miss. He would exit the game after seven, retiring the last nine men he faced. He one upped Keuchel with nine strikeouts and no walks while giving up the one run on six hits. It was another in a long line of big time second half starts from Ubaldo, who’s 1.77 ERA after the break is the best in the AL.
“When I get out there every five days, I’m going to throw everything I have because every game means something,” said Jimenez.
Joe Smith would come in and hold the Astros down in the eighth. The Wahoos looked as though they may take the lead, but again, they failed to bring it home. Swisher and Kipnis hit back to back one out singles. Jose Ramirez came on to pinch run for Swisher, who was 4-4 on the night. Santana had a chance to be the hero, but was struck out by Kevin Chapman. Gomes followed suit by striking out as well.
Things got really interesting when Chris Perez took the ball for the ninth. For some reason, CP loves to get himself into jams before wiggling his way out. In true Bob Wickman form, Perez loaded the bases with one out on a double, a hit batter, and a walk. But there he was, coming back to strike out both Wallace and Hoes to end the Houston threat.
“Once he labored, he came back and made some really good pitches,” said Terry Francona. “He has a way of doing that. Everybody might be nervous except for him.
More stellar relief work came from Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, who got the Tribe through to the 11th. Allen was aided by a horrific baserunning mistake by another no-name Astro pinch runner Jake Elmore. The rookie sat on second with nobody out in the 10th. Jonathan Villar came up in an obvious bunt situation and pulled the bat back on the first pitch. Elmore was caught way off of second and Gomes nailed him with a snap throw to Asdrubal Cabrera. It was a huge play.
Houston manager Bo Porter called on Rhiner Cruz after two scoreless innings of work from Josh Zeid. Gomes would single with one out. Cabrera then hit a cue shot off the top of his bat that stayed fair down the third base line. He barely beat the throw from third. Michael Brantley hit a liner to center, but Crowe snagged it for the second out. Mike Aviles was next and he would work a walk to load the bases for….Matt Carson.
Yes, Matt Carson, who the Indians brought up the last day of August. The 32-year old journeyman has been 4A to his core, bouncing around the minors for years, with only a cup of coffee in Minnesota to show for it. He had come on to play right field in the 10th after Drew Stubbs was pinch hit for. The last time was saw Matt, he had three hits and a homer in Sunday’s win in Chicago. But he was about to become a part of Tribe lore.
Down in the count 1-0, Carson laced a liner just past the diving Jose Altuve at second for a walkoff RBI single. Carson is now 7-9 in his three weeks in Cleveland and epitomizes this true “team.” They have gotten so many contributions from so many different places this year. Everyone is pulling together towards the one goal – playing playoff baseball.
“It’s a fun way to play,” Francona said, “when everybody in that room knows that they’ve got a chance to be in the game. Sometimes in the American League, you throw nine guys out there and you play. Our guys know that when they show up, they all have a chance to get in and help us win.
You had to feel great for Carson who has spent 12 years in the game and spent most of the year with AAA Columbus.
“This is the pinnacle of my career,” said Carson, who was officially initiated into “The Goon Squad” by Aviles, Ryan Raburn, Giambi, and Gomes. ”I don’t know if I’m officially in the club because those guys have done so much all year, but to be a pseudo member this late in the year is cool.”
As each passing inning went by, you could feel the importance of winning this particular game. Everything the Indians needed to happen last night, actually did. The Rangers beat the Rays, moving them into a tie for the two Wild Card spots. The Orioles lost. The Yankees lost. Kansas City did not play. Our Tribe now sits a half game back of both Texas and Tampa Bay while adding to their leads on Baltimore, Kansas City, and New York.
The Indians get three more with Houston, while Baltimore and Tampa Bay start a big series at Tropicana Field. Texas travels to Kansas City for a three-game set with the Royals. Think the schedule maker hit a home run with this timing? Tonight will be a solid pitching matchup down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. The Astros send their hottest pitcher Brett Oberholzer (4-3, 2.98 ERA) to the mound. He will be opposed by Zach McAllister (8-9, 3.96 ERA).
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)