Covering the Bases: Game 107
FIRST: Is the magic back at Progressive Field? At the very least, it’s here for the moment. And it’s been an absolute blast for the men inside the Tribe’s clubhouse and the fans who have been in attendance lately.
On Wednesday night, Cleveland pulled off a 6-5 victory in 10 innings courtesy of a walk-off home run from Carlos Santana. The catcher ripped a 3-2 pitch into the right-field seats, hustled around the bases, tossed his helmet high into the air and jumped into the traditional mob scene at home plate.
“Kind of boring, don’t you think?” deadpanned Indians utility man Mike Aviles.
Santana shot into the Cleveland night marked the Major League-leading fifth walk-off home run of the season for the Tribe. Since 1994, when Jacobs/Progressive Field opened, the Indians have led the Majors with 69 walk-off home runs.
This season’s heroes: Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Ryan Raburn, Jason Giambi and Santana. Eight different players (Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds and the previously mentioned group) have delivered Cleveland’s nine walk-off wins this season. It’s been an entire team effort in that regard, and that’s the way the club likes it.
“The thing about it, which I enjoy, is the fact that every night it’s somebody different,” Aviles said. “That shows you the kind of chemistry we have. We’re always rooting for each other. It shows you the type of depth we possess right now. It’s a fun way to win every night. Something different.”
Cleveland had a 3-0 lead through five innings, headed into the ninth deadlocked 3-3 and then watched the White Sox grab a 5-3 lead behind a two-out rally against reliever Cody Allen. The Tribe battled back for a pair of runs in the home half of the ninth, both coming on sacrifice flies (via Michael Bourn and Kipnis). That set the stage for Santana.
“We’re not really worried about who the hero is,” Bourn said. “We’re worried about just trying to win the game. In baseball, every man gets his chance.”
Off the bat, Indians manager Terry Francona wasn’t sure Santana had a homer.
That changed when bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. started high-fiving the manager.
“Sandy knows this ballpark better than I do,” Francona said.
SECOND: Indians starter Corey Kluber cruised into the ninth inning with less than 90 pitches and was at 95 after Conor Gillaspie delivered a two-out single to left field. At that juncture, Francona opted to hand the ball to Allen.
Kluber already logged a career-high 8.2 innings and was set to face White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo in the ninth. Viciedo was 0-for-3, but Francona felt the outfielder had been solid contact at times in his three previous plate appearances against Kluber.
In hindsight, Francona admitted to making a mistake in pulling Kluber from the game.
“He was very efficient,” Francona said. “I just thought, where we had gotten to that point in the game, Viciedo had had three looks at him and had some pretty good swings. It ended up not being a real good move on my part, but that was the reason.”
That was because Allen allowed two hits — one being a two-run single to Jeff Kepinger — and a walk before escaping the inning. It is worth noting that rookie umpire D.J. Reyburn’s strike zone seemed to tighten up with Allen on the hill in that critical situation. Allen might’ve struck out Keppinger looking had some close calls gone the other way.
“You want every pitch,” Francona said. “I just thought the zone got a little tighter than it had been. But, every teams wants every call.”
And Allen didn’t use it as an excuse.
“It should never have gotten to that point,” said the pitcher.
THIRD: Cleveland’s key push in the bottom of the ninth was ignited by a leadoff double by Michael Brantley against Addison Reed. Veteran Jason Giambi then came off the bench and was hit by a pitch to bring Drew Stubbs to the plate with no outs, and the Indians down, 5-3.
“I always think we have a chance,” Francona said. “We set up the inning. We knew what we wanted to
do. And when ‘G’ got nicked with that pitch, it’s like, ‘OK, at least we have a chance.’ Any time you have the tying run at the plate, you always feel like you have a chance.”
Stubbs squared around to bunt, did so successfully and narrowly beat out the throw to first base to load the bases for the top of the order. What followed put Cleveland in a position to collect another dramatic victory at home, where the team has won 10 in a row.
“It’s nice when you do some things and you get rewarded for it,” Francona said. “Stubby getting a
bunt down and then, on top of that, beating it out. When you do the little things right, it leads to some big things. It’s fun to see everybody contribute.”
HOME: Of course, the Tigers put an 11-1 beatdown on the Nationals tonight, keeping Cleveland’s deficit in the division at 2.5 games. The Indians have won a season-high seven games in a row, but they have only gained one game on Detroit in that span.
“We’re watching Detroit beat teams 11-1,” said Allen, shaking his head. “And we’re losing leads, getting leads, losing leads and walking off. We’ll win a few games here straight up eventually.”
“Beat’s losing,” Francona said.
And, the winning streak hasn’t been for naught.
Take a look at the American League Wild Card standings:
1. Tampa Bay/Boston 64-44 (–)
2. Cleveland 59-48 (–)
3. Baltimore 59-49 (0.5 GB)
4. Texas 59-49 (0.5 GB)
5. New York 55-51 (3.5 GB)
That’s right. If the postseason started today, your Indians would be in the playoffs.
Now, about August…
White Sox (40-65) at Indians (59-48)
at 12:05 p.m. ET Thursday at Progressive Field