This night was shaping up so nicely. It should have been an easy win where the Cleveland Indians breezed to the finish line and worried about the next game and the next game only. Instead, we wake up with a closer controversy. Actually, I wouldn’t even call it a controversy. Problem is the better word for it.
There are only three games left in this magical 2013 season and it looks as if your Wahoos not only do not have a closer, but no real defined back up option. This all came about because everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Chris Perez, couldn’t hold a five-run lead in the ninth inning against a Minnesota Twins team who’s best bat in the lineup last night was probably second baseman Brian Dozier.
Nobody will forget Perez’s last outing where he nearly single-handedly sent the Indians out of one of the two Wild Card spots by giving up two ninth inning solo homers to the White Sox. Only Jason Giambi’s two-run walkoff bomb saved him from completely humiliation. On that night, Tribe manager Terry Francona was adamant that CP was still his closer and he would run him right back out there the next time the situation arose.
With a 6-1 lead and three outs remaining, Francona put Perez in a perfect situation to “get right back on that horse.” Four hits and four runs later – including a two-run homer from rookie catcher Josmil Pinto – Perez was yanked for what may have been the last time in the ninth inning as an Indian.
After the game, Francona told the media that Perez came into his office to talk. I think this quote says it all:
“You never make decisions five minutes after a game,” Francona said. “He popped his head in here after the game and was actually really good about it. He was like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to cost us games, because I’m not locating.’ We’ll figure it out.”
Tuesday night, the Tribe’s veteran skipper – ever loyal to his players – stuck by Perez and said he was his guy. Two nights later, he knew he couldn’t say the same thing. It is obviously in Perez’s head too, as he told his man that he can’t cost his team any more games because of location issues. The decision has been made. I would be absolutely stunned if we saw Chris Perez close again in an Indians uniform.
As for which direction Francona will go, Jacob will have more on that later today.
The real story of this game should have been the continued smokin’ hot hitting of Michael Brantley. The man they call Dr. Smooth has been on an absolute tear lately and has caught fire at the best possible time. It doesn’t matter where Francona puts him in the lineup, he just keeps coming up with one clutch hit after another. Taking the leadoff spot for a second straight night in place of Michael Bourn (jammed shoulder), Brantley had three more hits, including two that drove in three of the Indians six runs. The 26-year old left fielder is in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak where he is hitting a sizzling 20 for 40, including four consecutive games with three hits and at least one RBI. Its the first time that has happened in Cleveland since 1959.
“He’s (Brantley) staying on the ball,” Francona said. “He’s staying through the ball. He’s using the whole ballpark, and it couldn’t come at a better time.”
The offense had the task of getting after lefty Andrew Albers, who shut them out on two hits right after the All Star break. This time around was a much better experience. After a Ryan Raburn leadoff single in the fourth, a balk, and a sacrifice bunt attempt put the Tribe on top 1-0, Yan Gomes came up big with a titanic two-run bomb off the facing of the upper deck in left. Like Brantley, The Yanimal had three hits and two RBIs.
I would just like to remind you all one more time that the Indians received Gomes and uber utility man Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers this winter. What a fleecing.
Zach McAllister started this one for the Indians and held the Twins scoreless into the fifth thanks to a couple of big pitches. The Twins put two on with nobody out in the third, but Z Mac got the big double play ball he needed to avert this one crisis. In the fourth he walked Trevor Plouffe with two outs which preceded a Chris Collabello double, but the Twins couldn’t push a run across as Darrin Mastroianni flew out.
An inning later a one out walk to Alex Presley and a single from Dozier brought Francona out of the dugout. The Tribe’s skipper is not messing around with so few games left. He quickly yanked McAllister in favor of Bryan Shaw, who he has leaned on so heavily this month. Tito has pulled the right strings so often lately and this was no different as Shaw’s first pitch to Ryan Doumit was grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Shaw pitched the sixth as well before giving way to Marc Rzepcynski for the seventh. He faced two batters, recording an out and hitting another. With a 5-0 lead, my thought process was that Francona should be attempting to rest Cody Allen and Joe Smith, considering their overuse of late. I get going to Shaw when he did, but he too has been overworked, pitching in six of the last seven games, including now three straight. You have a five run lead and you know it would also be Allen’s third consecutive outing and sixth in the last seven games as well. Turning to him was probably not the smartest play. I would have gone with Carlos Carrasco or Matt Albers in that spot. Instead, Allen came on and gave up an RBI single to Doumit which was sandwiched between two outs.
You would have to think that Shaw and Allen will not be available tonight.
The Tribe’s Albers came on to pitch a scoreless eighth before giving way to the drama of Perez in the ninth, which Smith came on to clean up.
Again, the only thing that matters is that the Indians won. They may have actually killed two birds with one stone here. Perez’s latest implosion came without losing the game. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back and those who didn’t want to see CP close anymore will probably get their wish. But again, what is important right now is winning every game.
Think about it. The Indians have won seven straight and eight of 10, yet haven’t gained a single game on Tampa Bay, who has also won seven straight and eight of 10. The Rangers in the meantime, got a walkoff homer from Jurickson Profar last night to beat the Angels 6-5, giving four straight wins, and seven of 10. They remain a game behind the Indians for the second Wild Card. The Rays hold the tie breaker with the Indians, so essentially the are down two games in the race to host the Wild Card game.
Tonight, it will be Corey Kluber’s (10-5, 3.61 ERA) turn to keep the Tribe’s winning streak alive. Kluber hasn’t pitched more than five and a third innings in any of his four starts since returning from the DL. A tired bullpen will need more length from him tonight. The Twins will counter with lefty Pedro Hernandez (3-2, 6.05 ERA), who beat the Indians back in June in Cleveland, pitching five innings of two run ball. He walked six in that game, but the Tribe offense could never take advantage.
The game to keep an eye on tonight is in Texas where the Angels will send 17 game winner C.J. Wilson to the mound, who has been their best starter all year. The Rangers will throw Alexi Ogando. Tampa Bay now goes to Toronto to face the Jays, who will start former NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey against the Rays most shaky starter, Jeremy Hellickson.