Second Thoughts Game #78: Indians 3, Orioles 7
One can hardly complain about splitting a four-game set with the homer-happy Orioles at Camden Yards. But with the Tribe gaining on the Tigers’ tail and a double-header in Chicago looming on Friday, that mess of a fifth inning certainly took some wind out of the sails.
Corey Kluber (6-5, 4.16) is more than forgiven for having an off-night. The 27 year-old has been the Indians’ biggest surprise of 2013, “temporarily” stepping into the rotation in April and never relinquishing his spot. His trademark for much of the season has been an impressive knack for escaping trouble—making the big pitch when he’s needed it. So when he worked himself into another jam last night in the fifth, there was every reason to expect another Houdini act. What we saw instead was more akin to the clowns in a Ringling Brothers show, as the Indians bobbled and booted their way from a 3-2 lead to a 7-3 deficit.
Kluber was certainly partially at fault, surrendering six hits (at least three of them hit hard) and looking uncharacteristically rattled against Baltimore’s relentless offense. But a lot of that five-run inning was just plain bizarre. Baltimore phenom Manny Machado was tossed from the game for arguing a (correct) strike-three call, reving up the crowd and causing a several minute delay while manager Buck Showalter pretended to be furious. Out in right field, a meandering Drew Stubbsapproached a bouncing ball off the bat of Matt Wieters like it was a bar of soap, allowing an extra run to score. And on a J.J. Hardy slow roller, Kluber himself temporarily thought he was competing in the Confederation Cup, kicking the ball a solid 30 feet off the railing of the dugout.
Probably the strangest play, though, came at second base, where the Indians’ Mike Aviles and Orioles’ Adam Jones seemed to enter some sort of rift in the space/time continuum—where a runner can be simultaneously out and safe, and a fielder can both cleanly catch and throw a ball and yet also be charged with an error.
In the end, the disastrous fifth inning—followed shortly by another long rain delay—clouded over what might otherwise have been a headline-stealing showcase for a rejuvenated Indians third baseman...
! of the Day: Lonnie Chisenhall
For those who criticized the decision to send The Chiz down to Columbus during his, earlier struggles, early returns seem to indicate it was a wise move. Lonnie was able to work out some of his problems in the state capital, crushing at a .390 clip during what amounted to a month-long, “mental rehab” stint. Since his return, he’s raised his average about 30 points to .235, highlighted by his best game of the year last night: 3-for-4, a homer, a double, and two RBIs.
It wasn’t just that Lonnie tallied some knocks, though. It was how he squared them up. His solo home run offMiguel Gonzalez in the second inning was an absolute Thome-esque bomb to right field, traveling an estimated 430 feet. And his game-tying double in the fourth was similarly smashed. This is the Lonnie we saw flashes of last season before his injury and during parts of Spring Training this year. With Mark Reynolds re-establishing himself as “just Mark Reynolds” over the past month, the return of a fully operational Chiz becomes all the more critical. So far, so good.
? of the Day: Jason Giambi
Despite his .204 batting average, nobody seems to have a single negative word to say about the Indians’s grey-bearded player-coach. For my part, I admit that the 63 year-old Giambi has performed admirably in his limited role, collecting his share of clutch hits, popping the occasional homer, and taking kids like Kipnis and Chisenhall under his wing. Last night, with Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera both on the pine, Terry Francona actually went as far as to put Giambi in the clean-up spot—the part of the order he called home back when he was a greasy, pine tar covered pup in Oakland.
It’s pretty much been a Tito-Giambino lovefest all year, which begs the question… is Jason Giambi going to defy the odds and play a full season as a Cleveland Indian? Back in April, we might have called that a 1-in-10 shot. Now, it’s starting to look like a safe bet. Even if Cleveland goes out and acquires a bat before the deadline (highly unlikely), Giambi seems to have achieved a sort of untouchable status—both in terms of his reputation (what, steroids?) and his place on the roster. Barring injury, it’s legitimately hard to foresee a scenario that short-circuits Giambi’s surprising feel-good farewell march.