Indians late rally falls short as Blue Jays edge Tribe 5-4
Bullpen gives the game away late that offense could not overcome
CLEVELAND-- They say baseball teams go as far as starting pitching takes them.
Tribe ace Justin Masterson (10-7, 3.72 ERA) gave his team another quality start, but it was the bullpen that gave the game away late, yet again.
Cleveland scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth, but it was not enough to overcome another bullpen meltdown as the Toronto Blue Jays squeezed by the Tribe 5-4.
With the game knotted at two in the ninth inning, left-hander Rich Hill (0-1, 6.75 ERA) walked Toronto center fielder Colby Rasmus with one out before getting Maicer Izturis to ground out for the second out of the inning.
Enduring a 0-for-18 slump before the at-bat, Kawasaki laced a two-run single to the gap in left field. Unable to field the ball cleanly, an error by center fielder Michael Bourn allowed Kawasaki to not only advance to second, but the Blue Jays to score a third run on the play.
“I felt alright, but I wasn’t good…I was far from that, that’s for sure,” Smith said. “It’s one of those things where you have to get one out and I just couldn’t do it.”
Although Toronto reliever Casey Janssen got two quick outs to lead off the bottom of the ninth, the Tribe offense didn’t go quietly.
Down 5-2 with two outs, Bourn knocked a ball through the right side off Janssen and moved to second base on defensive indifference. He came around and scored on an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera, cutting the deficit to two runs and putting the tying run at the plate for All-Star Jason Kipnis.
The second baseman worked a nine pitch at-bat for a walk, putting two runners on for Nick Swisher.
Down to his final strike, Swisher hit a groundball in the hole between first and second that Kawasaki fielded cleanly, but he threw the ball away, allowing Swisher advance to second as the winning run and Kipnis to third as the tying run.
Toronto manager Jon Gibbons went to his bullpen for right-hander Steve Delabar to face Michael Brantley. Hitting .397 with runners in scoring position on the season, Brantley flied out to center on the first pitch to end the ballgame.
Looking for a first pitch fastball, Brantley held no regrets.
“That’s exactly why I swung at the first pitch,” Brantley said. “It was a good pitch to hit, I just missed it. That’s the game of baseball. It’s going to happen.”
That wasn’t the only time the Indians came close to scoring, as the team left 10 on base going 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
Offensively, the Tribe couldn’t do much off Blue Jays starter Esmil Rogers, who worked six innings giving up just one run on four hits.
“It was a battle out there,” Brantley said of Rogers. “He threw the ball well and kept everyone off balance.”
“He works so quick,” Francona said. “He gets the ball almost on the rubber and he’s ready to go. We had some chances early and couldn’t cash it. Masterson made it hold up for most of the night.”
The Tribe ace wasn’t at his best, but he gave his team another quality start, allowing just two runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. It was walks that gave Masterson problems giving up five free passes in the ballgame and striking out six.
“The walks definitely didn’t help out,” Masterson said. “I tried to overthrow a couple pitches and ended up leaving them way out. I didn’t really set the good tone for the bullpen when they came in.”
With another five walks in the game, Masterson leads the American League with 54 walks in 135 1/3 innings on the year.
“Overall I thought it was pretty good, had a lot of movement on the ball,” Masterson said. “Unfortunately when I had the opportunity to finish out that seventh inning, I just didn’t take advantage of it.”
Tossing six scoreless frames, the right-hander ran into trouble in the seventh, giving up a two-run single to Bonifacio after walking the previous two hitters to load the bases. Francona decided to leave his ace at the center of the diamond despite having thrown 116 pitches prior to facing the Blue Jays left fielder.
“He probably was a little bit tired,” Francona said. “We needed just one grounder or something and we couldn’t get it. It’s frustrating because he didn’t command all night. He had several walks, but his two-seamer was so violent it was almost hard to keep it in the zone sometimes.”
Making his major league debut, right-hander Preston Guilmet relieved the Tribe starter and struck out his first big league hitter in Kawasaki. Guilmet worked a scoreless 2/3 of an inning in the game.
“If I finish the seventh the way we’re supposed to, it would have been probably a different story tonight,” Masterson said.
The Tribe offense didn’t give their ace much help in the contest, scoring just one run on four hits through seven innings.
Designated hitter Jason Giambi put the Indians up 1-0 early with an RBI single in the second inning off Rogers.
Over his last 52 at-bats, “Big G” is batting .270 with three doubles, four homers and 11 RBI.
It wasn’t until the eighth inning that the Cleveland offense tied things up, as Brantley connected on a RBI single with one out against Blue Jays lefty Brett Cecil.
Making his last appearance before his first trip to the Mid-Summer Classic on July, Masterson finishes the first half with a 10-7 record and a 3.72 ERA in 20 starts.
The Tribe ace won 11 games all last season.
With the loss, Cleveland (47-44) slide 3 1/2 games in back of first place Detroit in the American League Central.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Smith had probably his worst day in a Tribe uniform. It was not a good idea to have him pitch four days in a row, so Francona screwed this one up, too.
Rich Hill is on the team to get lefties out but he walked a lefty in the 8th to set up Toronto's 3-run inning. He's had a horrible season. Why is he still on the team?
Smith came in did more damage, but if Bourn just fielded a routine single cleanly instead of booting the ball, then throwing to the wrong base, the Jays would have scored only two runs rather than three and we'd be going to extra innings. To be fair, Bourn had three hits, but that physical error compounded by a mental error was costly.
Stubbs went 0-for-4, struck out twice, grounded into his first double play of the season, and made an error. He struck out in the 2nd with runners on 1st and 3rd with one out. Probably his worst game as an Indian.
But the biggest reason for losing a winnable game was Francona's poor decisions on his use of pitchers - staying with Masterson too long and bringing in Smith four days in a row.
And when is Swisher going to do something productive? Is his shoulder still an issue?