Covering the Bases: Game 114
Indians 5, Red Sox 2
FIRST: Every time you see Zach McAllister warming up to pitch at Progressive Field, you can expect to hear “Return of the Mack” pumping through the stadium speakers. Every time he pitches, it seems like you can expect him to pitch into the sixth inning.
“He’s been as consistent as anybody here,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “It means a lot. You know that you’re going to get at least six innings depending on his pitch count. He doesn’t walk a lot of guys. He gets himself in position to pitch a good game by attacking the zone with a good fastball and mixing his pitches.
“It’s nice to see that. It’s great that it’s one of those young up-and-coming guys for us.”
E-Z Mac was at it again on Saturday night, turning in a gem against the Red Sox. the 6-foot-6, 240-pound righty went eight strong, holding Boston to two runs on three hits. He struck out four and walked none. McAllister said he could’ve pitched the ninth if Acta had asked him as much.
Consider this, even including his rough outing last time out (1.2 IP, 9 R, 2 ER), McAllister is on a short list for consistency among American League starters this season. McAllister currently has 13 straight starts with four earned runs or fewer allowed. Entering Saturday, only CJ Wilson (19), CC Sabathia (16), Matt Harrison (14) and Jason Hammel (14) had longer streaks among AL starters this year.
One flaw in McAllister’s season has been his performance after miscues in the field. He leads the American League in unearned runs, despite having just 78 innings under his belt this season. A good development on Saturday was seeing McAllister settle in and limit the damage when things went sour in the field in the fourth.
After Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double, Carl Crawford reached on a botched bunt play. McAllister gloved the ball, and heard catcher Lou Marson calling for the pitcher to throw to third. The only problem was third baseman Brent Lillibridge was charging in on the play, so no one was covering.
On the next play, Dustin Pedroia reached with a chopper to Lillibridge, who looked Ellsbury back to third, loading the bases while stopping a run from scoring. With the bags full, McAllister yielded a two-run double to Alex Gonzalez. Ater that? He retired 13 of the final 14 hitters he faced.
That’s damage control.
“He was dominant the whole night,” Acta said. “He ran into a little bit of trouble in that inning where we gave him two extra outs, and he didn’t even get rattled.”
SECOND: Indians manager Manny Acta is 6-for-7 on squeeze plays in his career at the helm in Cleveland, and his latest successful call came in the seventh inning on Saturday.
Lillibridge led off with a double and then advanced to third on a groundout from Casey Kotchman. Marson then dropped a 1-0 pitch down for a squeeze bunt with Lillibridge sprinting home from third. Lillibridge was safe, giving the Tribe a critical insurance run.
“That’s something that, as soon as the guy gets to second base, you’re thinking of,” Acta explained. “If we would’ve been in the middle of the order, I wouldn’t even be planning on it. But you had the bottom of the order. Kotchman, I was going to give him an opportunity to move the guy over by swinging the bat.
“And, if he got to third, I knew that at some point, if the count worked for me, or if I had a good gut feeling, I was going to call it with Lou. He’s a good bunter. It worked out good, because Lillibridge is a very good baserunner. [Boston reliever Mark] Melancon made a good play, getting to the ball, but because Lillibridge is so fast, he didn’t have a play at the plate.
“It’s something that you start planning way before it happens, depending on who’s on deck and so forth.”
THIRD: In the sixth inning, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo teamed for a double steal with one out and Carlos Santana at the plate. The Red Sox opted to intentionally walk Santana to load the bases for Michael Brantley. Acta had no qualms with the runners pulling it off, even though it opened first base and set up a potential double play.
“Any time you can get guys to second and third in that type of situation,” Acta said, “you’ve got to go for it. And right now, the way Michael is going and swinging the bat, Michael is the guy we want to see up there in any type of situation. Today was another example of how huge he’s been for us in the middle of the order.”
Brantley came through with a sacrifice fly that gave the Tribe a 3-2 lead.
HOME: Saturday’s offensive output was all about the Lillibridge Over Troubled Waters. The light-hitting Lilly went 3-for-4, falling a triple short of a cycle. He homered in the third, knocked in a run with a single in the fifth and doubled and scored in the seventh. It ws Lillibridge’s first homer and two-RBI game since Aug. 31 last year. It was his first three-hit showing since Aug. 21 last season.
Red Sox (56-59) at Indians (53-61)
at 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday at Progressive Field