Covering the Bases: Game 106
FIRST: The Indians had the Bullpen Mafia in recent seasons. Now, Cleveland has the Bench Mob.
Tuesday’s win was another entry into this season’s growing list of heroics from the men who occupy the bench. Backup catcher Yan Gomes had two hits, including a two-run double, and utility man Ryan Raburn delivered the game’s big blow: a two-run, two-out, go-ahead pinch-hit single in the eighth.
“This is a night where maybe Chris deserves part of the win,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Francona was referring to GM Chris Antonetti, who had a brilliant offseason in terms of assembling a versatile, productive bench.
Antonetti reeled in utility man Mike Aviles and Gomes from the Blue Jays in a trade for reliever Esmil Rogers. The GM netted Raburn and veteran Jason Giambi on Minor League contracts, and they each won jobs on the big league roster during Spring Training.
What has that group done to this point?
Aviles: .265/.296/.385/.681, 6 HR, 10 2B, 29 RBI, 80 G (234 AB)
Giambi: .197/.302/.409/.711, 7 HR, 6 2B, 24 RBI, 46 G (127 AB)
Gomes: .291/.325/.520/.845, 7 HR, 9 2B, 2 3B, 26 RBI, 44 G (148 AB)
Raburn: .272/.369/.544/.914, 11 HR, 13 2B, 33 RBI, 61 G (169 AB)
For those scoring at home, that’s 31 homers, 38 doubles, 71 extra-base hits and 112 RBI in 678 at-bats by that foursome. That’d be an MVP-contending season right there. The group boasts a rate of 6.1 at-bats per RBI. To put that into perspective, if that were an American League hitter, he’d rank 14th overall, sandwiched between Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols.
None of that takes into account the defensive side of things.
Aviles has given the Indians a legitimate backup shortstop after the club cycled through five (Brent Lillibridge, Jason Donald, Juan Diaz, Jack Hannahan and Cord Phelps) in that role in 2012. Aviles can also man second and third base, and the outfield, if needed. Likewise, Raburn can hold his own at multiple infield spots and the corner outfield positions.
Gomes headed into Tuesday’s game as the Majors’ leader with a 55-percent caught-stealing rate and the Tribe’s pitching staff had a 3.88 ERA with him behind the plate.
“It’s awesome, man,” Raburn said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bench this productive. It’s great to see guys that can come up and step up and contribute. It seems like everybody off the bench has come in and helped, whether it’s playing a game or two here and there, coming off the bench for a pinch hit, and helping the ballclub.”
Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Indians were the only team in the Majors to have five players (Aviles, Giambi, Gomes, Giambi and Lonnie Chisenhall) with at least six homers and 20 RBI in under 250 at-bats. The Padres were the only other team in baseball with as many as four players to achieve those qualifiers.
“That’s a nice way to play,” said Francona, referring to having a versatile and productive bench. “That’s a nice way to play. Our bench is very productive in a number of ways. And one of them is the way the complement each other.”
SECOND: In the third inning, a slice of baseball history took place.
Gomes settled into the batter’s box for the Indians to face Andre Rienzo of the White Sox. It marked the first time in Major League history that two players born in Brazil squared off. Gomes received an 89-mph slider, and the catcher welcomed Rienzo to The Show with a single up the middle.
Rienzo came off the mound, and motioned toward Gomes, who was smiling at first base.
“We’re both just looking at each other, laughing,” Gomes said with a smile. “He was just kind of like, ‘Come on, man. If you’re going to get a base hit, get a little harder one than that.’ But I mean, hey, a base hit’s a base hit.”
The game was broadcast in their home country on ESPN Brazil.
“It was awesome,” Gomes said. “Such a huge thing for our country. I’ve been saying this all year, and it’s just going to get better.”
In seven innings, Rienzo held the Indians to three runs (none earned) on five hits, finishing with six strikeouts and three walks. He became the first starting pitcher to go at least seven innings with no earned runs allowed in a big league debut against Cleveland since Detroit’s Andy Van Hekken on Sept. 3, 2002.
“He was impressive,” Francona said. “He threw fastballs down, up, by design. He hrew a breaking ball that was as good. He commanded it. He threw some for strikes where he had to get back into the count. He threw some that were in and out of the zone when he got ahead. He was really impressive.”
THIRD: That lefty Scott Kazmir turned in the worst performance from the rotation in the past 18 games says a lot about how strong the starting staff has been of late. Kazmir allowed a season-high nine hits in five innings, during which he was charged with four runs with three strikeouts and no walks.
With that, the rotation’s ERA has “ballooned” to 2.08 (26 earned runs in 112.2 IP) over the past 18 games, dating back to July 8.
“I don’t think he felt real good about his stuff tonight,” Francona said of Kazmir. “It was just one of
those nights where he came out and he was having a little bit of trouble getting loose. But, to his credit, he hung in there.”
So did the Tribe’s bullpen, which followed with four shutout innings to give the offense time to come back against Chicago. Right-hander Matt Albers led the way with 2.2 scoreless frames, lowering his season ERA to 2.75 for the Indians.
HOME: A key moment that could easily be overlooked took place just prior to Raburn’s momentum-swinging pinch-hit single in the eighth inning. After Carlos Santana came through with a two-out base hit, to put runners on the corners with two outs, Francona sent the fleet-footed Drew Stubbs to first base to pinch run.
While Raburn was hitting against White Sox righty Matt Lindstom, Stubbs swiped second base.
“Lindstrom’s got real good stuff,” Francona said, “but he doesn’t necessarily hold runners the best. We
have one of the best base stealers in the game. That’s just our best chance to go ahead.”
It proved to be a crucial move, considering Raburn followed with his base hit to center field. Asdrubal Cabrera scored easily from third and Stubbs, thanks to the stolen base, sprinted home ahead of the throw to push Cleveland to a 5-4 lead. Gomes then put the game away with a two-run double.
“If Raburn gets the hit and he doesn’t steal, maybe we’re still playing,” Francona said. “Who knows? It put us in a really good position.”
EXTRA INNING: Following the game, Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano had an emotional goodbye with his teammates. Pestano wasn’t traded, but he was optioned to Triple-A, according to a source. That vacates a spot on the active roster, possibly for lefty Marc Rzepczynski (acquired from the Cardinals on Tuesday) or another player coming via trade. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
White Sox (40-64) at Indians (58-48)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field