If you are my age or older, you have grown up with the Indians being relegated to playing “spoiler” over the last month of the season more times that you’d like to remember. See, what all of you in your born in the 90′s don’t realize was that September baseball was meaningLESS more than meaningFUL before Jacobs Field was born. It wasn’t all just Albert Belle home runs, Kenny Lofton stolen bases, and Manny Ramirez gap shot doubles. My September’s as a kid had expanded rosters galore and the likes of Luis Medina, Carmelo Castillo, and Kevin Rhomberg getting those late season at-bats to try and thwart the Toronto’s, Detroit’s, and Kansas City’s of the world from making it to the playoffs.
In essence, we are watching 1983 or 1984 or pick any year of my late 70′s and 80′s youth baseball right now. Insert Corey Kluber for Roy Smith. Kluber is one of the Indians “young arms” that they are taking a long look at over the last month and a half of the season. He’s not considered a top prospect by any means and essentially he is here because of the failures of the projected rotation. He jumped the line this year (well, you can’t really say it was an impressive line to begin with when it is three people deep and one of them is David Huff) and made his sixth start yesterday in Detroit and against the hated Motor City Kitties.
Kluber hasn’t really been all that impressive since coming up from Columbus. We are still waiting to see that signature start from him. I am not ready to call yesterday’s outing what I just described, but it was clearly the best we have seen from the 26 year old right-hander. He scattered six hits in six innings, allowing two earned runs while striking out four, while earning his first career win.
Once again it didn’t look good early for Corey as the Tigers got to him in the first. He loaded the bases with one out on an infield single, a walk, and a hit batter. Anti-Semite Delmon Young put the Tigers on the board with an RBI single and Kluber could have easily folded in front of 35,000 plus screaming Tiger fans. Instead, he induced a gigantic double play ball off the bat of Brennan Boesch to end the inning.
“I think the double play was the key for him,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “With a lineup like that and a young kid like that who’s feeling his way in the big leagues, he could’ve just crumbled and given up a crooked number there.”
In the fourth, Kluber again looked like he would become unhinged. Young doubled to open the frame. Boesch singled him to third. Old friend Jhonny Peralta then ripped one to the wall in left that was played perfectly by Ezequiel Carrera, which forced Boesch to stop at second. Peralta was held to a long RBI single. Again, the Tribe’s starter came up with the big momentum killing pitch. Alex Avila, who is a notorious Tribe killer, grounded into a 4-6-3 double play in front of Omar Infante’s line out.
Another big inning was thwarted. From the Peralta RBI single on, Kluber retired the final eight batters he faced.
“He pitched very well,” Acta said. “We took him out there after the sixth, wanted him to leave on a good note and he ended up getting his first win in the Major Leagues. We’re very happy for the kid.”
This one wasn’t without the subsequent nervous Tribe action in the late innings.
The Indians would take a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh. With one out, Lou Marson singled off reliever Darin Downs. Laser Lou then did something nobody thought he would – steal second. It was his fourth swipe of the season and one of four Indians steals on the day. Avila is not exactly the second coming of Pudge Rodriguez behind the dish. Shin-Soo Choo then walked. Jason Kipnis drilled a sharp single to left to load the bases for Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera has been slumping in this second half for the second straight season and had sat out the previous two games with soreness. He came back strong yesterday with two hits, and the seventh inning sacrifice fly which would put the Tribe on top 3-2.
With closer Chris Perez still unavailable after the birth of his daughter over the weekend, Acta could have chosen to go several ways to get the last nine outs. It is September, so its time to experiment a little. In the seventh, instead of going with his usual guy, Joe Smith, he called Cody Allen. The right-handed rookie retired the first two men he faced before walking Infante. However, Laser Lou gunned Infante out trying to steal to end the seventh.
Allen has been extremely effective in his short time in the bigs. He has now made 17 appearances, spanning 20.2 innings of work, and has allowed just four earned runs (1.74 ERA). He has the look of a back end of the bullpen option for 2013.
Next up for Acta could have been Smith again, but this time he chose to go to Esmil Rogers for the eighth. Like Allen, Rogers has been a pleasant surprise in a season littered with garbage. The power-armed righty breezed through the top of the Tigers order 1-2-3.
The Tribe had a chance to grab an insurance run in the ninth, but watched it blow up in their faces. It was almost as though they thought they were still playing in August. Brent Lillibridge singled and stole second. He was moved over to third on Marson’s fly ball. Lefty Phil Coke walked Choo to put runners on the corners with one out for Kipnis, who already had two hits in the game. Naturally, he hit a sharp grounder to Prince Fielder playing in front of first base. Lillibridge was caught off the bag and Fielder charged at him. Kipnis should have stopped running and forced Fielder to tag first, but instead ran right by Fielder as he was moving towards Lillibridge. Fielder tagged Kipnis, then threw to third to start a rundown in which Lillibridge was tagged out as well.
So onto the bottom of the ninth we went and on came Vinnie Pestano, who to me will be the closer in 2013 when the Indians deal Chris Perez this offseason (do you honestly think a non-contending, small market team like ours is going to pay a closer $7-8 million next season when they can move Pestano to that roll for pennies on that dollar?).
Vinnie was greeted rudely by Fielder, who doubled down the line in right. The Tigers and their big crowd thought they were in business. Young, however, weakly tapped in front of home plate for a big first out, Fielder had to stay at second. Vinnie then hit Boesch right in the ribcage to put two on with one out. This had the makings of another epic fail in The D. However, the next man up was the unclutch Jhonny Peralta. I for one predicted Jhon would hit a classic roll over double play to end the game. Instead, he swung at ball four on a 3-2 pitch for the second out.
All Vinnie had to do was get Avila, never an easy task. Avila swung at Pestano’s first pitch and hit a grounder to the right side past a diving Casey Kotchman. Kipnis made the long run to the hole to get to it, fired to Pestano who reached for the bag and tip-toed it for out. Ball game. The Tribe pulled out a game that it had won so many times earlier in this season, but failed to do over the last six weeks.
Said Choo: ”If we played like this all year, we’d have no problems.”
Pestano saved his second game of the long weekend in Perez’s absence. With the lack of top tier prospects and a closer in waiting like Vinnie, trading Perez this offseason is an absolute no-brainer.
Can the Tribe do it again tonight and actually win back to back games? On the road? Hey, why not. Its no longer August.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)