It feels like forever since the Indians won two games in a row. Actually it was May 29th and 30th at home against Cincinnati. Last night in Texas, they had a chance to do it again and take some much needed momentum home with them after a brutal nine-game stretch against three of the top teams in the American League.
Arlington has been a house of horrors for the Indians over the past decade. But in their one visit this season, the Tribe pulled out the series with last night’s 5-2 win. The offense started to wake up a bit from their three-week funk. The starting pitching over the past two nights has been solid and we saw a throwback performance from the bullpen. All of it added up to a great end to a horrifically started trip.
Facing rookie Nick Tepesch, the Wahoos attempted to jump ahead early. Michael Bourn led the game off with a single to left. With two outs, he stood on second when Michael Brantley lined a sharp single to left. The speedy centerfielder raced around third and for some reason didn’t slide into home, instead attempting to knock the ball out of the glove of Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski. He was tagged out. But the two first inning hits set the stage for the rest of the evening.
With two outs in the second, Tepesch hit DH Jason Giambi with a pitch. It seemed innocuous at the time, but a minute later Mike Aviles took a Tepesch pitch deep to the seats in left to put the Tribe on top 2-0.
An inning later, the Bourn and Brantley duo were at it again. Bourn beat out an infield single and moved to second on a Jason Kipnis single. After Nick Swisher struck out, Brantley this time went to right field with his single, bringing home Bourn. They did more damage to Tepesch in the fifth. Things got started with a leadoff homer from Kipnis, who had three hits on the night. An out and a walk later, Carlos Santana joined the hit parade with an RBI double to right.
Through five innings, the offense knocked the rookie around for five runs and eight hits.
On the other side was Ubaldo Jimenez, who was looking to get back on track after going just three plus innings in his last start in Detroit. He got through the first two innings unscathed despite walking two and in the third he looked like he could be headed for trouble.
Light hitting Leonys Martin took him deep for a solo homer that got the Rangers on the board. Phenom Jurickson Profar followed with a single but was erased on a Murphy double play ball. Ubaldo should have been able to walk off the mound after Lance Berkman hit a lazy fly ball to right center, but the ball fell between Bourn and right fielder Drew Stubbs. Off the bat, you could see Bourn point to Stubbs yelling “you.” Jimenez was then forced to face Indian killer Adrian Beltre with a man on base. He ended up walking Beltre but came back to retire Pierzynski to end the threat.
The extra out more than likely cost Ubaldo a chance to pitch deeper in the game. He was tiring in the sixth after putting the first two runners on base. At 101 pitches and the left-handed hitting Pierzynski coming up, Francona called for lefty Rich Hill.
“Ubaldo competed, but I don’t think he had his best command,” said Francona. “He stayed ahead of the hitters for the most part, but I didn’t want him facing that lineup for a third or fourth time, especially in this park.”
The veteran southpaw hasn’t exactly been what you would call “reliable” since the first month of the season but nevertheless Tito needed a matchup guy. Hill did his job, getting Pierzynski to fly out to center. Bryan Shaw was then summoned from the bullpen with runners on the corners to face the dangerous Nelson Cruz. It took just four pitches for Shaw to dispatch of Cruz with a big time strikeout. It was up to Jeff Baker, who had hit a home run the night before, but Shaw got him on a ground ball to second.
Crisis averted. More importantly, the bullpen was in a big spot and came through. There were, however, still nine more outs to get.
Shaw erased a Chris McGuiness single via the double play ball, but was removed Profar singled with two out in the seventh. This time it was Nick Hagadone’s turn to do his job. Facing the lefty Murphy, Hags looked like he would be in trouble again as a fly ball to deep right left Murphy’s bat. Hagadone’s reaction was priceless. He thought it was gone, as did I and thousands of other Indians fans. However, Stubbs tracked it down in front of the wall for the third out.
We all exhaled.
Joe Smith struck out the side in the eighth (around a Beltre walk) and turned things over the Vinnie Pestano. The Tribe’s fill in closer allowed a run on a two-out RBI double from Profar, but preserved the win as the Indians headed home with smiles on their faces. The highlight of the final frame was a wild 15 pitch at-bat against Baker who fouled off a whopping nine straight pitches before grounding out to second.
“This is how we’re supposed to perform,” Pestano said. “I know it’s a surprise, the way we’ve been playing these games lately, but this is the way this bullpen is supposed to get the job done. When we’re handed the ball, especially with a four-run lead, let alone anything smaller, it’s our job to go out there, get outs and win the ballgame.”
The hitting star in this one was Kipnis, who homered, singled, and doubled for three of the Tribe’s 10 hits. Good things happen when the top of the order – Bourn and Kipnis – get on base. They did so six times.
“Everybody is contributing,” said Francona. “We kept the line moving. We were aggressive on the bases. Mike Aviles gave us the big hit early so everyone could take a deep breath.”
Jimenez picked up his fifth win of the season, going five innings, giving up one run on four hits and four walks, striking out four.
“This feels good, especially after the way we’ve been playing the last couple of weeks,” Jimenez said. “To win two straight against a team like Texas, is big. They’ve a very good team.”
The Wahoos now trail the first place Tigers by four and a half games and have a day off today before starting a three-game home series with the Washington Nationals.
photo via Scott Sargent/twitpic