Second Thoughts Game #105: White Sox 2, Indians 3
After a quality sweep of the Rangers, the Indians welcomed a down and selling White Sox team to town for a four-game set. The run of quality starting pitching continued, but the visiting team pitched just as well, resulting in a grind-out battle all the way. Tied late, a record-setting walk-off home run sent the Indians to their fifth straight win.
Return of the Mac
Apparently, Zach McAllister's first start back from injury knocked all of the rust off.
Although White Sox hitters were able to break up the Indians' scoreless inning streak against him (at 26.0 innings, officially), he spent much of the night in the strike zone, and thus, in control. He threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 27 batters he faced, and 70% strikes (63 of 90), overall.
The game was basically everything we have come to expect from McAllister. Attacking, getting ahead, and mixing pitches and locations to keep hitters guessing. The two runs he gave up came via three straight two-out hits to the White Sox's three best hitters: Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. All three pitches that they hit were left up, but it was the only real trouble he faced.
The one difference I did notice compared to pre-injury McAllister, though, was that he wasn't getting the swings and misses (just four) and strikeouts (just two) that he generally does. He had a tough time locating his curveball in this one, and he threw it less than he wanted to in his first start back, so it seems like he hasn't quite gotten completely comfortable with that yet after the finger injury.
Assuming there isn't any lingering discomfort with that grip, it and everything else should get more crisp with repetition. At which point, there is no reason to expect anything but the steady, aggressive starter that he had become before the setback.
Quality pitching extends beyond the starters
Since July 8 (17 games), Indians starters have had a cumulative and absurdly good 1.84 earned run average. The strong pitching seems to be contagious.
Although the bullpen is still the biggest area of concern as the trade deadline nears, they have been nearly as dominant as the rotation during this stretch. In 44.1 innings over those same 17 games, the relievers have posted a 2.64 earned run average themselves.
The best of the bunch, Chris Perez, worked the tied ninth inning of this one. It was yet another scoreless outing for him, his sixth in a row, and his 13th since returning from injury (of 14 games). He allowed a single earned run in the only other game, giving him a 0.60 earned run average.
It is safe to say that he is healthy, and I would speculate that his media silence is only helping him focus on being a better pitcher. While I fully expect a few changes in the bullpen soon, the group has been better than you would probably think lately, especially compared to most of the season.
Bourn's backup saves the day
The biggest play of this game for me was not the obvious choice that I will get to, but one that happened just minutes before.
In the top half of the ninth, Dayan Viciedo hit a sinking line drive to right field. Ryan Raburn was caught in between and misplayed the ball, letting it get all the way to the wall. Had it not been for Michael Bourn's alertness and speed, the White Sox may have taken a 3-2 lead. Instead, he beat Raburn to the ball and held Viciedo to a "triple."
Not to be outdone, Michael Brantley made a difficult catch look rather smooth (what else?) to record the third out and preserve the tie shortly thereafter. While the infield defense has been an issue for much of the season, the mostly regular outfield group of Brantley, Bourn and Drew Stubbs has performed as advertised.
The Big G(ame-winner)
Mark Reynolds was scheduled to lead off the Indians' in the ninth. He did manage to draw two walks, which is about the most positive sign we have seen from him in months, but Terry Francona opted to go with left-handedJason Giambi against a right-hander.
It was a pretty easy decision, and one that paid off. Giambi put the third pitch he saw, a high breaking ball, into the foliage in straightaway center field. With that, he became the oldest player in baseball history to hit a walk-off home run.
It was the team's eighth walk-off win of the year, and the fourth via homer. This season-long narrative about the Indians utilizing all 25 players and it being a different guy every night really isn't just a cliche. Seven different Indians are responsible for those eight walk-off wins: Jason Kipnis twice, Nick Swisher, Stubbs, Reynolds, Yan Gomes, Raburn, and now Giambi.
Up next: The second game of four in this long series. Scott Kazmir will take the ball for the Indians. As for the White Sox, Jake Peavy is the scheduled starter, but few expect him to make it -- he is the subject of rampant trade rumors and could be moved at any time.
After being pinch hit for by Giambi, Reynolds appeared to be no where in sight during the celebration at home plate. At least I couldn't spot him. "Slugger" Reynolds has not had a double in his last 195 at-bats which is amazing.
That said this team is solid all around , all year, it was known bull pen was under achieving, but guys like chrisperez whom i knew would get it together quick. A.L. central CLEAR A PATH.
Jason kipnis should start getting some mvp talk