Brantley's walk-off homer sends Indians over Tigers in extras
Smooth gives Tribe a much needed series opening win against Detroit
CLEVELAND—Just what the doctor ordered.
For a team that has struggled virtually all season, there has been one Tribe player that has remained consistent, and so smooth.
Knotted in a 4-4 tie in the tenth inning, Michael Brantley gave the Indians their biggest hit of the year. Leading the club in both homers and RBI, Dr. Smooth added to his total launching a walk-off home run off Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque to give the Tribe a 5-4 win Monday.
“I just tried to put a good swing on a good pitch and I was fortunate for it to go out today,” Brantley said.
With nine homers on the season, the left fielder is one long ball shy of tying his career mark of 10 which he set last year. His 33 RBI also rank sixth in the American League.
“As long as we win, but the way it ended was great,” manager Terry Francona said. “Brantley’s been so big for us, and you saw how excited everybody was for him and for us. We played a pretty good game.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time for Cleveland (20-25), ending their four-game losing streak against the first place Tigers in the series opener of a three-game set.
“It’s huge, especially the start of a big series and a big rivalry,” Brantley said. “Anytime you play in the division it’s very important. Hopefully it’s a momentum booster and we’ll ride that momentum and use it the rest of the games against Detroit.”
One inning before Brantley’s blast, things were pretty sour despite a ninth inning lead. Amidst a closer-by-committee setup, Francona turned to Cody Allen in the final frame with the Tribe clinging to a 4-3 lead.
The right-hander wouldn’t be able to notch a save or a win, serving up a pinch-hit solo home run to Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez, for his first homer of the season.
“A guy comes off the bench cold and gets a 96 MPH fastball up and out over the plate and doesn’t miss it. That’s good baseball right there,” Allen said. “You have to tip your cap to him.”
The right-hander has now surrendered four earned runs over his last inning of work, yielding three runs without recording an out Sunday against Oakland.
“Just like a hitter, pitchers go through a period where they don’t feel totally comfortable out there,” Allen said. “I felt fine tonight, but yesterday was a day where I didn’t feel comfortable.”
His teammate and Tribe starter Corey Kluber was anything but uncomfortable on the mound Monday. For the seventh time in ten outings this year, Kluber posted a quality start going seven strong innings giving up three runs.
“I thought he was good,” Francona said. “The couple mistakes he made he paid for. But he showed when you do pitch in, not let them get their arms extended, you get around them.”
The only two mistakes Kluber made in the ballgame came on off-speed pitches. American League batting leader and former Indians catcher Victor Martinez took the starter deep for his 11th home run, which tied the game in the second inning. Then, in the seventh, left fielder Rajai Davis deadlocked the ballgame up again for Detroit with a two-run double.
Even with another no-decision, Kluber continues to be an anchor in the starting rotation, posting a 3-1 record and a 2.34 ERA over his last six starts.
He would get a decent showing from his struggling offense, as Cleveland hitters topped at least four runs for the first time in their last five games.
Rookie Jesus Aguilar collected his first big league hit on an RBI single in the fifth inning, right after Nick Swisher drove home a run with an RBI knock of his own off Tigers starter Drew Smyly. The Detroit southpaw went five innings Monday, giving up three runs on seven hits.
“He looked like he relaxed a lot,” Francona said of Aguilar. “It’s very easy for us to forget a kid’s up here for the first time in the big leagues and hasn’t got a hit.”
The 23-year-old watched 38 year-old Scott Atchison (1-0, 1.42 ERA) notch his first win as a member of the Indians, tossing a scoreless tenth inning.
“He’s been big for us all year,” Francona said. “Obviously he’s moved into a role of later in the game, which he deserves.”
The same could be said for Brantley, where the hero of the night found himself in the middle of a mob scene at home plate after his walk-off blast.
“I’m a team player,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where I hit in the lineup, I just try to do the best I can no matter what situation I’m in, and I was lucky to be in that position.”
Brantley’s sudden surge as the Tribe’s top power and run producer has impressed his skipper.
“I don’t know exactly [what’s fueled it], but I know it’s fun to watch,” Francona said. “I think his base is stronger, his legs. I think as good hitters get to know themselves throughout the league sometimes that evolves into more production. I think that’s what you’re seeing.”
“I know he’s not one of our veteran guys, but the more of a leadership role he takes on in our ball club, the better we are. He’s that type of guy. I think he has a lot of influence in that clubhouse because of the way he plays the game.”
Up next for Indians: The Wahoo’s look to keep the momentum going Tuesday against Detroit, sending right-hander Trevor Bauer (0-1, 1.50 ERA) to the hill for his second start of the season. The 23-year-old will have a tough task ahead of him, as he gets opposed by six-time All-Star Justin Verlander (5-2, 3.15 ERA) at 7:05 p.m.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Distressing that Giambi sends Aguilar to Columbus. It's not as if Giambi is actually a threat to get a hit off a right handed pitcher. I wonder if Morgan too will be stuck in AAA when he's ready to come off the DL? Seems he won't be able to knock Giambi off the roster.....maybe Sellers will go instead to make room. Not a big Sellers fan, but unlike Giambi he shows some ability to hit major league pitching.
Two big RHP's today and tomorrow as well as the O's 4 of 5 starters being RHP's.. So, it makes a lot sense that Aguilar would be sitting against these RH'ers, so going back to C-Bus with a hit and an RBI and a Sac Fly, etc.. will be good memories.. We'll get to see more of Lonnie and G, also..
If the reports are true that Giambi is coming off the DL today, I'd be very surprised if Aguilar is still with the team. Not saying I want this or think it's the right move (I don't) but unless Tito has a change of heart and sends down a reliever, going with the a normal 7-man pen...well Aguilar is the odd-man out. Like Kottaras, I don't think even a good day at the plate will save him.
Not sure what pen arm they'd even option out in lieu of Aguilar. House is gonna go for Bauer. Do you really option Crockett? Seems like a waste of an option year to put him on the 40-man and then option him a week later. Optioning Axford would be a bold move...
Fabulous efforts by:
Corey Kluber.. the brush back of Miggy was perfect.. and the K following was even better.. Not having him factor into the game superb.. Klubes just continues to show he's the goods..
Lonnie.. Pinch hitting.. no problem.. Play 1B.. give him the chance.. This is a breakout season for him..
The Yan-imal.. hustles his way to first.. hustles his way to 3B on a single to LF (to be honest, Rajai has a noodle for an arm), and Gets AFTER IT..
Dr Smooth.. he keeps it real.. keeps hitting.. and is developing the power stroke that anyone with baseball intuition could see was coming.. What a night for Smooooooothing the way to a W!!
Note on Cody: Tip the cap, sure.. next time, read the scouting report.. This guy is a fastball hitter.. try something with a wrinkle with a cold as ice pinch hitter.. until he proves he can handle it. He's a reserve/scrub for a reason..
Onto the Tigers FOR SP's now.. How about a series win before the finale???..
Hopefully Dr. Smooth has the Rx for the rest of the series.