Second Thoughts: Game #99 - Tigers 3, Indians 5
With just a handful of days left before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, every game through the end of the month will vastly shape the Tribe’s position in the trade market. Consider Thursday’s rubber match win against Detroit an unequivocal check in the buyer’s box. One of the reasons the Indians have hung around in the American League central is their now 7-2 record against the Tigers. With this win, the Motor City Kitties slip into 2nd place at a half game behind Chicago, while Cleveland sits a very manageable 3.5 games back. It was an entire team effort for the Tribe, led by their starting pitcher, Zach McAllister.
McAllister musters the right might: Facing a fearsome lineup and the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP winner, Justin Verlander, in one of the most pivotal games of the season thus far, Zach McAllister had to keep his team in a position to win. The 24 year old righty did not wilt, as he matched the game’s best pitcher. With 30 pitches in the first inning, it appeared that McAllister might have lost some of his confidence when Prince Fielder chopped a single through the left side of the infield for a two-out RBI. Neither a defensive lapse that led to that unearned run, nor the pressure of the situation caused the Tribe starter to falter; instead, he collected himself and made his pitches.
McAllister trusted his stuff, as he didn’t hesitate to attack with his low-mid 90s fastball, while working in well-located breaking pitches, and the occasional changeup. One at-bat that sticks out came in the 3rd inning against Tribe-killer, Miguel Cabrera, who is hitting .340 with 19 home runs and 66 RBI against the Indians since the start of the 2008 season; the homers and ribbies are the most among active major league players against Cleveland during that stretch. It took Zach-Mac nine pitches to put Cabrera away, but on the last pitch he tied up the Tigers third baseman with a sharp slider (or slurve). McAllister kept Detroit hitters from getting comfortable at the plate by changing eye levels with his fastball, which had its usual run in this game.
Once he got settled in, from the 3rd inning on, McAllister followed his usual recipe for success by peppering the strike zone with undaunted focus during his 6.1 innings pitched, while yielding nine hits, a pair of walks, and a homer for three runs allowed (two earned), as well as seven strikeouts. After Delmon Young’s solo shot to leadoff the 6th inning, McAllister responded once again by mowing down the next three batters to keep the deficit at two. As you can see from the line, McAllister gave up his share of baserunners, but managed to limit the damage and give his team a chance at winning a crucial game and series.
7th inning breakthrough: With Verlander cruising through the first six innings by limiting the Tribe to a mere three hits, it looked like an aggressive plate approach from Indians hitters might not pay off. Yet, it just took the 7th inning stretch and a little patience to get the Cleveland bats going. Thankfully, Santana didn’t waver from the team’s approach to aggressively go after Verlander. The Tribe catcher blasted a first-pitch fastball that was up— but not up enough for Verlander’s sake— into the seats to trim the lead to one. Santana stayed on the ball and got the sweet spot on a 93 MPH pitch. In what appeared to be a replay of the first at-bat, Travis Hafner followed with his own first-pitch solo homer on a nearly identical mistake pitch to give the Indians back-to-back home runs. This two-pitch sequence was a poetic atonement for Santana and Hafner’s squandering of a two-on, none out opportunity in the 4th inning.
Following consecutive blasts, Jose Lopez roped a single for a third straight hit. After consecutive fly outs from Kotchman and Duncan, the only Indians starters to go hitless, Shin-Soo Choo knocked an opposite field single to keep the inning alive for Asdrubal Cabrera. On a low 98 MPH fastball on the inner-third of the plate, Cabrera showed once again how good of a low-ball hitter he is with a huge two-out RBI single to give Cleveland their first lead of the game. Mr. Wahoo, Jason Kipnis singled on a very mild liner that caromed off opposing shortstop, Ramon Santiago’s glove for the sixth hit of the inning off Verlander, which pushed the fifth and final run across. Santiago should’ve made the catch, but plays like this highlight the benefits of putting the ball in play, especially with a runner in scoring position. Verlander recorded the final out, but not until the Tribe stunned the Tigers by batting around for a definitive four run inning.
Smith squashes threat: In a critical point in the game, Joe Smith came into the 7th inning with runners on the corners and one out. At this point, the Indians were still down by two, so allowing any more runs to cross the plate, with a cruising Verlander still in the game, could’ve pushed the game out of reach for Cleveland. Smith had little time to get settled, as he had to contend with Miguel Cabrera. On a second-pitch slider, Cabrera grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. The twin-killer couldn’t have come at a better time, and it invigorated the crowd and offense. Manny Acta raved about the importance of this turning point in the game; the back-end of the bullpen continues to come through in the most critical of times to douse threats. It’s hard to imagine where the Tribe would be without Smith, Pestano, and Perez.
Error leads to 1st inning run: With such a high level of significance placed on Cleveland’s necessity to do all of the little things right to pull out this much-needed win, it was unsettling to watch Jose Lopez airmail a throw to first base on the first hitter of the game. The error allowed Austin Jackson to take 2nd base, later setting up Fielder’s two-out RBI single. In fairness, it was an admirable effort on Lopez’s part to charge the ball and attempt what would’ve been a great play, but this comes down to knowing the opposing personnel. Jackson is a burner, and even a perfect throw likely wouldn’t have gotten him out, so Lopez should’ve put that one in his pocket. Chalk it up to an aggressive, well-intended effort, but giving away a run with Verlander on the mound was not a strong way to start the game.
Kipnis’ sac fly: After Choo clubbed his 32nd double to leadoff the home half of the first inning, Cabrera advanced Choo to third to set the stage for Kipnis’ sac fly to the soggy warning track. This play will get lost in the greatness of the 7th inning, but without a response run in the first, the Tribe would’ve lamented another wasted run-scoring opportunity, in addition to trailing with a dominant opposing starter on the hill. Luckily, the Indians played a little small ball to get the run across. They could hardly afford to waste RBI opportunities in this game; the aggressive approach against Verlander paid immediate dividends and likely took some pressure off McAllister. Kudos to Kipnis for doing what it took to push the run across.
Tigers two-out runs: Two of the three runs that Detroit scored in this game came with two outs. Both two-out runs also gave Detroit a lead at the respective points in the game. The aforementioned first Tigers run was doubly troubling since it was unearned and came with two outs. McAllister got Fielder to roll over on a good fastball, but unfortunately it found some grass and pushed Jackson across for the early 1-0 lead.
The second two-out run came in the 4th, when Jackson burned the Tribe by whacking a flat 1-1 slider for an RBI single to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. Allowing two-out runs is never a good thing, and it’s only worse when it gives the opposing team the lead. Outside of these minor blips (and Young’s solo homer) McAllister stepped up by limiting the damage. These two-out runs could’ve proved larger, if Cleveland had not come back, but by and large, the damage was relatively minimal.
3 Most Wanted
Some love for the fans: 34,579 were in attendance for this thriller. After Tribe fans have taken heat this season for lackluster attendance figures, it was uplifting to see a raucous scene in the stands, especially from the 7th inning on. They relentlessly cheered in the later innings; one must think that a lively crowd can only inspire a resilient Indians squad. Let’s hope this pivotal win will spark some consistently high attendance totals when the Indians return to Cleveland for a seven-game homestand starting August 6th.
A quicker hook from Acta: McAllister went out to the mound for his 7th inning of work and just didn’t look right. He was down 3-0 to Omar Infante before inducing a popout, and then walked Jackson after battling to a full count. I understand letting him go out for the 7thinning, but after these two starkly unimpressive sequences, it was painfully obvious that McAllister was out of gas. Yet, with 112 pitches, Acta let him face the next batter, Quintin Berry, who singled to put runners on the corners. Only then was McAllister lifted in favor of Joe Smith, but it stuns me that Acta didn’t respond proactively to his starter having nothing left in the tank. Why risk giving Miguel Cabrera a run-scoring opportunity? Case in point: McAllister started the inning with a wild breaking ball, before going on to throw 15 consecutive fastballs to end his night.
Buyer status: With this meaningful win, hopefully it will thrust Cleveland one giant step closer to being buyers at the trade deadline. Fringe teams with a right-handed bat available should take notice; the Tribe could be calling with an offer.