As a baseball fans, you know there are those games in which your team should win but end up losing. Then there are the games that your team has no business winning, yet does anyways. Last night in front of a sparse crowd at Progressive Field, your Cleveland Indians pulled off the latter. How else can you explain the 4-3 victory in which the Tribe loaded the bases with nobody out TWICE and failed to score? Or tell me how they won while leaving a whopping 13 men on base while going 2-12 with runners in scoring position? That’s not easy to do. But this is Actaball, where the strange usually outweighs the normal.
It also helps when you are playing the Kansas City Royals.
This one was a matchup of veteran right-hander Derek Lowe and lefty villain Jonathan Sanchez, the man who ignited the benches clearing controversy 10 days ago. The first batter Sanchez faced, Jason Kipnis, was hit in the hand with a curveball. Nobody thought the pitch was intentional. It would become obvious within an inning. Sanchez was all over the place, nibbling at the corners all night and putting runners on base like that was his job. He lasted just four and two-thirds innings and walked seven. He would exit after throwing 115 pitches, just 56 of which were strikes.
The Wahoo offense had seemingly a million chances to put this one away, yet never could. Sanchez was on the ropes several times, but wiggled his way out of trouble. With a 1-0 lead in the second, Sanchez walked Jack Hannahan, Casey Kotchman, and Aaron Cunningham to open the frame. He again was all over the place. Yet for some reason, Kipnis decided to swing at the first pitch and weakly popped out to shallow left. Asdrubal Cabrera also decided to swing at the first pitch (which was in the dirt) and missed. In the third pitch of the at-bat, he hit into a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play.
The approach by Kipnis and Asdrubal in those two at-bats was beyond poor to say the least. You just had the feeling that this would come back to haunt the Tribe.
The fifth inning is where the offense finally came through and knocked Sanchez out of the game. For the second time on the night, they loaded the bases again on three walks. Shelley Duncan delivered a sac fly to center, putting the Tribe ahead 2-1. Now with two outs, it was time for the Tribe’s MVP thus far to take matters into his own hands. Hannahan worked the count full, then poked a pitch into the right-center gap for a two-run double. It was Jackie two-out lightning at its best. He’s now an incredible 6-8 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
“He’s flying high, confidence wise,” manager Manny Acta said of Hannahan. “We want to see him up there. He’s already been huge for us in a few games. His heartbeat is probably a lot slower than a lot of the younger kids that we have here.”
The two Hannahan RBIs turned out to be the difference in this one, as the Indians would spend the rest of the game wasting chances. They had two on with two out in the sixth, but Carlos Santana grounded out. Hannahan’s two-out single in the seventh produced nothing. Then in the eighth, they loaded the bases a second time with nobody out and failed to score.
Meanwhile, Lowe was cruising. As a ground-ball, sinker specialist, Lowe is going to give up hits. But he minimized his damage, allowing just one run while scattering eight hits in six innings, striking out five and walking one before turning things over to the bullpen.
Tony Sipp, in his seventh inning spot, got the Royals in order which was a much needed confidence boost for the up and down lefty. Vinnie Pestano took the ball in the eighth and walked Eric Hosmer to open the inning. One out later, Mike Moustakas singled sharply to left, moving Hosmer to third and bringing the tying run to the plate. After getting Humberto Quintero with a huge strikeout, Mitch Maier touched Pestano up with an RBI double. At 4-2 with the lead run at the plate, Vinnie got Alcedes Escobar to ground out.
It has been flying under the radar thus far, but Pestano hasn’t been consistently the guy we saw last season in front of Chris Perez. He will be fine, but it is something to keep your eye on.
Pure Rage allowed a run in the ninth, but closed out his league-leading seventh save for the Tribe’s ninth win of the season. The victory, coupled with losses by the Tigers and White Sox, vaulted the Tribe into a three-way tie for first place, with the Indians percentage points ahead.
It wasn’t all smiles coming out of Progressive Field last night. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo had to be replaced in the eighth inning by Jason Donald due to what Acta called “mild” hamstring tightness. Choo is listed as day to day, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t see him the rest of this series. If Choo’s injury causes a DL stint, it could signal an earlier than expected debut of Johnny Damon or the return of the 2012 Andy Marte, 4A special Matt LaPorta, who went 4-5 with a homer for Columbus last night. LaPorta is now hitting .344/.394/1.051 with five homers and 10 RBIs in 17 games in AAA.
Michael Brantley was also given the night off against the lefty Sanchez. The .196 hitting center fielder appeared as a defensive replacement. Acta revealed after the game last night that Brantley is battling a sore right wrist as well, but he is expected to be in the lineup tonight.
Taking the ball for Acta at 7:05 will be Ubaldo Jimenez (2-0, 4.00 ERA). He will be faced by a guy the Tribe has owned in the past, righty Luke Hochevar (1-1, 5.87). The last time he faced the Indians, Hochevar was lit up for seven runs and nine hits on four innings. For his career, he is 4-8 with a 5.81 ERA in 12 starts against them.