Your Cleveland Indians, losers of five straight and seven of eight, arrived back in Cleveland in dire need of a pick me up. “We needed to get a victory because we’ve been playing good baseball without much to show for it,” said last night’s starter Justin Masterson. The Big Nasty was the perfect pitcher to take the mound to attempt to end the skid. This is his job as the Tribe’s ace. Be a “stopper,” and streak-buster. Go out, give your team a solid pitching performance and hope that the offense takes care of the rest.
That is pretty much what happened last night as the Tribe took down the Cincinnati Reds at Progressive Field.
It didn’t start out that way as in the top of the first, all-world first baseman Joey Votto took Masterson deep over the center field fence for a solo homer. Votto is such a stud at the plate (Did I mention I still can’t believe that Terry Francona allowed Nick Hagadone to face Votto with first base open in a tie game in the eighth inning Monday night? I swear, I will let it go!). But from that point forward, Masterson was in control.
The offense has been in one of their lulls during this losing streak, but a return to Progressive Field was hopefully what they needed to get off the schneid. Leading off the third and using his new walk up music courtesy of pitcher Trevor Bauer, Mark Reynolds destroyed a Bronson Arroyo pitch 446 feet to the bleachers in left field to tie things up. An inning later, they would take the lead.
With one out, Asdrubal Cabrera and Nick Swisher laced back to back doubles. DH Jason Giambi followed with a third straight double over the head of center fielder Shin-Soo Choo which easily should have scored Swisher and put the Indians in position to notch a crooked number. For some reason, Swisher didn’t go half way off the bat and got a bad read. To make matters worse, third base coach Brad Mills waved him home. Swisher ended up being easily thrown out at the plate on a relay throw from Brandon Phillips.
“Just a baserunning mistake,” Francona said. “Every once in a while, something like that happens.”
It actually has happened plenty of late.
The Indians blew another scoring chance when the oddest of stolen base attempts, blew up in their faces. On a 3-1 count, Giambi took off for third base with two outs, which made absolutely zero sense. ”I was trying to give him a running start so he could score,” Francona said. “You can put that one on me.”
Instead of being up at least two runs at a minimum, the Indians somehow doubled three consecutive times and came away with just one run.
The Reds tried to get to Masterson in the fifth and sixth, but in both innings, the big right-hander worked his way out of the jams.
Choo and Zack Cozart hit back to back two out singles in the fifth, but were stranded when Votto grounded out to first. The sixth inning was trickier.
Phillips started things with a high chopper off the plate that he beat out for an infield single. Jay Bruce then sent a ground ball towards Swisher at first. The ball bounced off of Swish’s glove and he was charged with an error. Masterson followed by hitting Todd Frazier with a pitch to load the bases. Danger time arrived without a hard hit ball. Justin needed a double play ball in the worst way.
He got it.
Facing Xavier Paul, Masterson induced a check swing comebacker to start the 1-2-3 double play. Hanigan would fly out to left and Masterson’s magic act was complete.
“Masty changed the whole momentum of the game right there,” Giambi said.
If Masterson’s sixth inning turnaround changed the momentum, Giambi’s next at-bat would be the death blow.
With two outs and nobody on Cabrera and Swisher hit back to back singles, bringing the 42-year old grey-beard to the plate. Jason has had great success in his career against Arroyo last night was no different. With two on and two out, Giambi sent a shot over the wall in right field to give the Tribe a 5-1 cushion. It was his second home run in his last two games, silencing all the doubters who say he shouldn’t be on this team.
“I’m never worried about the batting average with him,” Francona said. “If he can do some damage, that’s what’s important. He’s smart enough to know that. He’s still a presence when he steps in the box.”
Giambi’s clubhouse presence is well documented and with the versatility of guys like Swisher, Mike Aviles, and Ryan Raburn, it doesn’t hurt Francona one bit to have a one dimensional DH on the club. Not to mention, he just loves being a part of this group.
“There’s no greater feeling in the world than to be able to help contribute and help the ballclub out. It’s exciting. That’s what brings me back. Sometimes I wish I was still 25 or 26 years old,” he said.
The respect he has from his teammates is obvious. Look no further than the reaction in the dugout after his big three-run homer and that old school forearm bash he shared with Swisher. ”Greatest bash of my life,” Swisher said. “But you’ve got to come ready. That’s a big man right there.”
Masterson spoke glowingly of Giambi after the game as well.
“I can’t say enough about Jason Giambi,” Masterson said. “It’s hard for anybody outside of this clubhouse to understand just how much we enjoy him.”
With a 5-1 lead, Francona turned to his bullpen. Up first was Cody Allen, who has easily been the best of the bunch of late. Cody retired the Reds 1-2-3, including strike outs of Choo and Cozart. Allen now has 33 K’s in 23 innings pitched. Joe Smith pitched a scoreless eighth and handed the baton to the new interim closer, Vinnie Pestano.
When last we saw Vinnie, he had velocity and command issues in Boston as he blew a one run lead in the eighth. We got that “here we go again” feeling when Paul opened the ninth with a solo homer. Pestano would get the next three batters to close out the win, but he is still working himself back into form.
Regardless, this was a much needed welcomed win for the struggling Tribe. With the Tigers loss to Pittsburgh, the Indians moved to within a game and a half of first place in the AL Central. The Battle of Ohio ends tonight with Scott Kazmir (2-2, 5.94 ERA) taking on Cincinnati right-hander Homer Bailey (3-3, 3.08 ERA).
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)