The early-April Chicago rain gave way to fireworks, smoke and free passes from the Indians’ stirrup-wearing starter. After an hour delay, the White Sox played host to the Cleveland Indians who would go on to play one of their fundamentally worst games of the still-young 2012 season.
Errant pitches, botched grounders, dropped pop-ups and miscommunication on stolen base attempts totaled to what would be a 7-2 loss to the division foe.
Tribe starter Ubaldo Jiménez, going head to head with Chicago’s gangly lefty Chris Sale, was flanked by Manny Acta’s right-handed lineup; Aaron Cunningham in right field, Jason Donald manning third base and Lou Marson behind the plate with Carlos Santana getting his first start of the season at first base. While they would have enough of a test with the 6-foot-6-inch Sale’s 2-o’clock delivery which would follow 94-mile-per-hour fastballs with 79-mile-per-hour breaking balls, the Tribe infield would also have to contend with the smoke which would fester through the stadium following post-home run fireworks.
The first test would come when White Sox catcher AJ Pierzynski deposited a home run into the Indians’ bullpen after it would ricochet off of a row of empty right field seats. Home plate umpire Tim Timmons would call for a timeout after the US Cellular Field fireworks would result in a thick cloud of smoke that hung over the stadium like London fog. Jiménez and the Tribe infield would not be as lucky following a Gordon Beckham — Chicago’s ninth hitter whom Cleveland made look like Tony Gwynn — third-inning home run which splashed into the left field bleachers.
The solo shot, one of Beckham’s three hits on the evening, would serve to be the opening act for a circus of follies as Indians infield would drop multiple infield pop-ups — one of which the Indians would be fortunate enough to have ruled an out based on the infield fly rule – and botch a routine ground ball. Jiménez would allow multiple bases on balls, one to designated hitter Paul Konerko with the bases loaded. Pitching coach Scott Radinsky even got in on the fun, paying a mid-inning visit to his starting pitcher. Yakkity Sax and laugh tracks would have certainly been apropos.
Manny Acta, however, would not be humored.
“We just didn’t play good defense, period,” Acta said following the loss. “We didn’t catch a ball up in the air. We didn’t catch a ball on the ground. We didn’t cover the bases when we had to. Plain and simple, we can’t afford to play that type of defense with the offense that we have.”
Third baseman Jason Donald would call the outcome of the inning “unfortunate,” but the truth of the matter was that this was entirely self-inflicted. Even the outs that Jiménez would record during what was his shortest outing of the season (lasting four and two-thirds of an inning) were hit hard; Shelley Duncan made several nerve-racking outs in left field. Eight hits and six walks in less than five innings will not provide many wins for a team which hit their first home run in a 12-game span.
The offense we have, indeed.
Duncan, despite his blood pressure-raising play in left, showed why he started in place of the recently added Johnny Damon thanks to a 2-for-3 night with a double and a home run to center field. Second baseman Jason Kipnis also kept his recent hot streak alive, going 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a stolen base. Kipnis has hit safely in five straight games and is hitting .441 over his last nine contests, pulling himself within one RBI of team-leader Jack Hannahan (14).
A lot has been made of this current Indians club which needs to play fundamentally flawless baseball if they are to sustain their current level of play — they are presently tied for first place in the AL Central. The six walks allowed by Jiménez are high enough hurdles; the errors (even though the first dropped pop-up was scored a double by the liberal official scorers in Chicago) merely compound the issue.
While the early-game rain and mid-game smoke did the Wahoos no favors, the fact that only 54 of Jiménez’ 105 pitches fell for strikes — while the bullpen threw three-and-a-third scoreless innings — was easily the antagonist. Since his one-hit debut against Toronto earlier this season, Jiménez has struggled mightily with his control, forcing Acta to go to the bullpen a lot earlier than preferred. Said by many to be the key in the Tribe’s 2012 success, last year’s big trade acquisition is looking more and more like a gamble fallen short.
Josh Tomlin looks to get the Tribe back on track this evening. He is expected to be joined by Shin-Soo Choo, who has missed the last several games with an injury, as well as the team’s new addition in Johnny Damon.
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)