Second Thoughts: Game #156 Indians 6, White Sox 4
The Indians won their final road game of the season, largely thanks to a strong showing from the bullpen. By taking the rubber game of this series against Chicago, Cleveland bumped the Sox out of 1st place in the division. Hector Santiago was the third straight left-handed starter to toe the rubber against the Tribe in this series; however, for the second consecutive game, the Indians overcame their issues against southpaws, pushing their record on the season against lefties to 17-35. Tribe hitters were patient as they racked up a dozen free passes allowing them to push across enough runs to come out on top. Playing spoiler is a consolation prize to be sure, but it was enjoyable to see the other team perturbed and pressing for a change.
Tribe bats overcome missed opportunities: The Indians did enough on offense to pull out a win, but in the process of scoring their six runs they left an eye-popping 14 runners on base. The struggles with runners in scoring position continued, as they went 2-for-11. Of the twelve walks they worked off Chicago pitching, the Tribe could only plate two runs. Regardless, they got the job done. They opened the scoring early, thanks to 1st inning walks to Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana. Russ Canzler continued his hot hitting ways by staying back on a breaking pitch and smacking it up the middle for a two-out RBI single.
In the 4th frame, Lonnie Chisenhall and Lou Marson led off with a single and walk, respectively. Zeke Carrera grounded into a fielder’s choice and then stole second. Following a Shin-Soo Choo walk, which ended Santiago’s start, Kipnis came through by battling from down 0-2 against Brian Omogrosso to plate a pair on a bouncer up the middle. Kipnis now has a hit in all eleven games he’s played at U.S. Cellular Field.
Santiago was wild through his brief 3.1 innings pitched. He often got ahead of Tribe hitters, but couldn’t put them away. In the 6th, after a Choo leadoff double and back-to-back walks to Kipnis and Brent Lillibridge, Santana battled reliever Nate Jones for a dozen pitches, before netting himself a walk and RBI, while knotting the game at four. Unfortunately, a Canzler strikeout and Travis Hafner double play short-circuited the inning to keep the Indians from hanging a crooked number. Choo hit into an RBI fielder’s choice in the 7th and Vinny Rottino clubbed a belt-high fastball in the 8th for a solo homer.
It was a balanced attack from Tribe hitters, as three players (Kipnis, Santana, Marson) had three walks for the first time in over 40 years. The weak spot in the lineup on Wednesday was undoubtedly Hafner, who went 0-for-5, with seven left on base.
Sox strike early, quiet late: The White Sox ripped three runs off Justin Masterson in the 1st inning. Alejandro De Aza walked, Kevin Youkilis singled, and Adam Dunn singled to load the bases with none out. Paul Konerko then walked on four pitches to force home the first run. Alex Rios hit a sac fly to center field for the go-ahead run, as Masterson battled major control issues. A.J. Pierzynski smoked an RBI double off a mistake fastball middle-in for the third run of the inning. Chicago was 2-for-4 with RISP in the opening inning, but only managed a 1-for-9 mark in that department the rest of the game.
The only other run the Sox pushed across came in the 5th. Pierzynski walked, and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Alexei Ramirez cashed in on the Tribe miscue by knocking a two-out RBI double off a low, flat fastball from Masterson. Over the final four innings, Chicago could only manage one hit. One key to this win was keeping the homer-happy Southsiders from playing long ball. After recording outs in the 7th, both Konerko and Pierzynski were visibly aggravated. Again, it was nice to see the long faces on the other side of the diamond for a change.
Masterson sans control: This was not one of Masterson’s finer performances. He fell behind hitters early and often, while struggling mightily with location throughout his 4.2 innings. At times, especially in the 1st inning, he flat out couldn’t find the zone with his sinker or slider. Against righties, he was pulling the ball low and out of the zone. It took him 37 pitches to escape a turbulent opening frame. Although his outing wasn’t a complete face-plant, he ducked and dodged trouble throughout the vast majority of his start. When he did find the zone, he often caught too much of the plate, allowing White Sox hitters to square up mistake pitches.
Masterson easily notched the first two outs of the 5th, but could not get the final out of the inning. He walked Pierzynski, and then uncorked his 14th wild pitch (2nd most in AL) to put the Sox backstop in scoring position. Ramirez made him pay by swatting a low sinker for an RBI double, ending his night. In spite of clearly not having anywhere close to his best stuff, he had a chance to go five innings, but because of his wildness, it allowed Chicago to clip him for a fourth run. Masterson allowed seven hits and four walks, while once again watching his ERA rise above five. His six groundouts versus five fly outs underscores his inability to get a good downward tilt on the ball, which is his usual recipe for success.
Tribe ‘pen pins it down: After Masterson’s rocky start, five members of the Bullpen Mafia combined for 4.2 shutout innings. Frank Herrmann was the first one in, working a full hitless inning. He came on to get the final out of the 5th, punching out Dewayne Wise, while stranding Ramirez in scoring position. Tony Sipp earned the win by recording the final out of the 6th inning. Joe Smith and Esmil Rogers each earned holds, while combining for two innings of one-hit, two-strikeout ball. Chris Perez erased a leadoff walk by getting Youkilis to ground into a double play. He didn’t flinch when Lillibridge sailed a routine throw over Casey Kotchman at first, rather he calmly got Konerko on a first pitch popout, en route to his 38th save.
Walk-a-thon: There were an inordinate amount of walks in this game, 18 combined between the two pitching staffs. Six of the seven White Sox pitchers who appeared had walks; only Jesse Crain avoided issuing a base on balls. Masterson issued four of the Indians six free passes. You won’t see many games where there are more walks (18) than hits (17).
Round numbers: A few Indians rounded off their season totals in key statistical areas during this contest. With two stolen bases, Kipnis reached 30 steals. Choo smacked a double in the 6th, giving him 40 on the season. He also hit the 60 RBI mark, thanks to an RBI fielder’s choice in the 7th. Finally, Joe Smith recorded his 20th hold, good enough for 11th most in the American League.
3 Most Wanted
Rubber match win: The Indians needed a win Wednesday to notch their second series win for the month of September, and they got it. With all the struggles on the road this season (31-50), it was uplifting to see the Tribe finish the away schedule with a win. Since the All Star break, Cleveland has three series wins, so this is nothing less than cause for celebration.
More Canzler: With two hits in four at-bats in this game, Russ Canzler is now 21-for-71 (.296) through his first 20 games with the Indians. Although he did strikeout twice with the bases loaded, he came through early with an RBI single. I look at the two missed chances as a good learning experience for Canzler. It’s better to see him go down hacking than to watch a player who has no opportunity to contribute to the team next season stand in there. He may or may not be an everyday caliber player, but he should at least get a long look in spring training as an extra outfielder/ back-up first baseman.
Arm wraps & ice: Because of an unholy number of walks and the fact that neither starter could make it through five innings, a lot of relievers were called on in this game. 13 pitchers combined to throw a whopping 389 pitches, nearly 100 more than the average of 292 (according to Baseball-Reference). It’s pretty crazy considering there weren’t a ton of runs scored, nor was it an extra innings game.