Second Thoughts-Game #96-Indians 3, Orioles 1
|W:J.Masterson (7-8), L:T.Hunter (4-5), S:C.Perez(27)
At the start of play on Monday, the Indians were 4 ½ games behind the idle division-leading Detroit Tigers. Reeling from losses in seven of their last nine, the Indians were desperate for an ace-like performance from Justin Masterson to avoid a four-game sweep at home against the Orioles. Luckily, he came through and the Tribe found a way to win a crucial game.
Masterson’s mastery: Simply put, Masterson did a stellar job trusting his stuff. He worked around allowing leadoff runners reaching in four of the eight innings he faced a leadoff batter. He scattered seven hits and one walk over 7.1 innings, while allowing one earned run and tallying six strikeouts. His patented power sinker was sinking the vast majority of the night, as he pitched to contact, with three very timely inning-ending double plays.
The only time he labored during his 92 pitches was in the 5th inning. After quickly getting the first two outs and two strikes on Eric Flaherty, a slider stuck in Masterson’s hand a little too long and clipped Flaherty on the foot. At that point, Masterson appeared to lose his arm slot, as he served up a run-scoring double to Omar Quintanilla and then threw seven straight balls after the hit batsman. With runners on first and second, he induced the inning-ending lineout from Endy Chavez to end the threat, preserving a 2-1 lead. Masterson’s acute readjustment got him back on track; kudos to him for not panicking.
Outside of that short lapse, Masterson excelled all game at inducing ground balls, as well as a solid six strikeouts. Both he and Baltimore starter, Tommy Hunter, who went a sound seven innings while allowing just three earned runs, did a great job attacking the zone. The combined one walk between both starters underscores their commitment to pitching to contact, making for a quick-moving game. Hunter came into the game leading the majors in homeruns allowed per nine innings pitched (2.14). It was his weakness for permitting the long ball that was the difference in this game, as Hunter fell just short of Masterson’s superb start.
Choo’s homer: In the 3rd inning, Shin-Soo Choo recorded the first runs of the game by blasting a fastball that was middle-up, depositing it in the third row behind the right-center field fence for a two-out, two-run home run. This was a key play with two outs to give Cleveland an early lead. After falling just short in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game, it was uplifting to see the Tribe give their starter some run support. After dropping the first three games of this series, not playing from behind was a critical psychological advantage.
Choo’s big fly comprised two-thirds of the Tribe’s offensive results, so it was as important early as it was in the bigger picture of the game. He continues to thrive in the leadoff spot of the lineup, adding two hits to his team-leading .296 batting average.
Markakis’ base-running mishap: The third influential piece to this game came on a gaffe from Nick Markakis on the base paths. With the Tribe clinging to a 2-1 lead, Masterson was pulled in favor of Vinnie Pestano with one out and Markakis on first. The first batter he faced, Endy Chavez smoked a fastball to left field. Oddly, half way between third base and home plate, Markakis stopped dead in his tracks after realizing he blew through a stop sign from the third base coach. Cabrera hustled a relay throw in to Santana to trap the Orioles leadoff hitter in the run down. He was tagged out in what proved to be a hugely costly play for the second out of the inning, which prevented the game-tying run from scoring.
The curious part of the play is that it appeared Markakis could’ve forced a good throw from Cabrera to the plate, if he would’ve continued to proceed home. Instead, he froze and blew any chance of forcing a solid throw and tag. This proved vastly significant in the long run, but Pestano still had one more out to escape the threat.
Pestano ties up Thome to end 8th: The Markakis blunder will get much more space in a typical recap of this game, but an equally significant out was still needed by Pestano to preserve the one-run lead. Thankfully, Vinnie got it. Pestano threw a devastating, diving slider against Jim Thome to induce the inning-ending punch out. This clutch out triggered roaring cheers from the crowd, as the Tribe setup man smacked his glove in jubilation. The value of a lock down setup man is incredibly underrated because he is asked to rescue his team from these types of situations, and Pestano does it with the best of ‘em.
Tribe catches breaks: In addition to the Markakis play (which I would consider more of an opposition’s mistake, but a break nonetheless), the Indians were wholly hospitable toward some breaks that fell their way in this game. Most important of all was Casey Kotchman’s third inning liner to first base. Baltimore first base man, Chris Davis was dealing with a sliver of sunshine aimed at his face, preventing him from cleanly fielding the ball. By the time Davis corralled the ball, Kotchman had reached with an infield single. This was important because it extended the inning for Choo’s homer. If Kotchman doesn’t reach base, Choo never gets a chance to bat in the inning.
Moreover, the Indians caught a leg up from the first base umpire in the 6th inning. Matt Wieters grounded into a controversial inning-ending double play, in which a zoomed-in, super slo-mo replay showed that Wieters stepped on the side of Masterson’s foot, pinning the pitcher from tagging the base, as Wieters foot slid over Masterson’s to tag the bag first. The first base umpire’s view was blocked by the bag, so it wasn’t an egregious missed call, but helpful for the Tribe, nonetheless.
Finally, in the 8th inning, Asdrubal Cabrera lined a pitch off Hunter’s thigh for an infield single, setting up Michael Brantley’s RBI single, which provided a much-needed insurance run.
Beautiful bunt by Kipnis: The following play after Cabrera’s fortuitous infield single, Jason Kipnis executed an absolute dandy of a bunt down the third base line for a second consecutive infield single to load the bases with none out. The third baseman, Wilson Betemit appeared to somewhat misread the play, as he retreated to third base; yet, I would argue that even if he did charge the ball there was no way he’d throw out the quick-footed Kipnis. This was a savvy move by a player that proves his worth to the team in so many ways that go beyond the stats.
Assuming Acta didn’t put the bunt on —which as a manager who is heavily on the record as saying he philosophically doesn’t agree with giving up the out, so I doubt he did— this was a heads up play by Kipnis.
3 Most Wanted
A win: The significance of this win cannot be overstated. A demoralizing four-game sweep at home could’ve really sent the Tribe’s season into a tailspin, with a crucial three-game series on tap against Detroit, who just acquired Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante from the Miami Marlins. Keeping the deficit at four games heading into the Detroit series was a must, and Cleveland came through in this game, led by their ace, Justin Masterson.
Full coverage insurance: In the 8th inning with the bases loaded and no one out, the Indians managed just one run. It was a key insurance run, to be sure, but Cleveland could’ve really blown the game open with a couple of big hits. The trio that followed Brantley’s RBI single, Santana, Hafner, and Cunningham couldn’t get it done in another underwhelming bases loaded opportunity. The issue of timely hitting has rightfully been beaten to death, but it would’ve helped ease the tension if another runner or two had crossed the plate.
Continued improvement from Santana: In his second at-bat, Santana demonstrated that he’s making a conscious effort to improving his plate approach. Admittedly, I’ve been on him of late, but this at-bat was a positive sign that he’s making the necessary adjustments. Santana went opposite field, lacing a double in the corner. He stayed on top of a fastball on the outer part of the plate with a quick swing, showing that he can take what a pitcher is giving him. If the Tribe catcher can continue to build on these types of at-bats, he should steadily replicate his post-All Star break numbers.
Unfortunately, Hafner is still mired in a slump since the All-Star break. The only chance this team has to stay without shouting distance is if everybody is hitting and the starting pitching is consistent. Last night they got the pitching and the usual offensive leaders came through - Choo and Brantley.
But now they get Detroit for three games with Masterson not due to pitch. This could easily be an ugly sweep which effectively ends the Indians season and sets them up as sellers with four days to make a deal or two.