Covering the Bases: Game 151
FIRST: With less than dozen games left on the schedule, there is not much a player can do — good or bad — to have a great impact on his final season statistical line. The numbers are what they are right now.
What matters now is doing anything and everything possible to try to find the win column.
“You have to pull a rabbit out of the hat and find a way,” Nick Swisher said.
For Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Bourn, that also means finding a way to turn the page on what has been — in the overall sense — down years statistically for each of them. And over the past few weeks, that trio has stepped up to help inject some life into a Cleveland offense that labored mightily through August.
Swish, Cabby and Bourny — as they’re called within the clubhouse — came up big again Tuesday.
Bourn powered the offense with a run-scoring triple in the seventh inning and a leadoff home run in the ninth. Cabrera came through with an RBI double that glanced off the glove of left fielder Alex Gordon in the eighth inning. Swisher delivered a sacrifice fly to pull the game into a 3-3 tie in the seventh.
The season-long slumps, for the moment, are in the rear-view mirror.
“We’ve just stayed behind each other. That’s about it,” Bourn said. “Individual stats, for the most part, they are what they are at this point of the year. That doesn’t really mean anything to anyone anymore — for real. We’re just trying to play to get to the playoffs. That’s all we can do.
“Each day, whoever comes up with the hit, whoever comes up with the defensive plays, whatever it is, we’re all behind each other. We’re just rooting for each other every time somebody goes up to bat. That’s all it is. We’re not worried about all that other stuff anymore.”
Bourn added that 42-year-old veteran Jason Giambi spoke to the team recently about that very topic.
“We listen when he talks,” Bourn said. “He’s been around for a long time — 19 years. It’s the truth. You’re not playing for yourself now. It is an individual game at times — we know that. It’s not that anymore. It’s not about the individual anymore. You do what you can to try to get that win.”
Over the past seven games, Bourn has hit .310 (9-for-29 with a homer, double, two triples, five RBI and six runs scored, after hitting .203 with a .565 OPS in his previous 45 games. Cabrera has hit .278 (10-for-36) with five homers and 12 RBI in his past 11 games, after hitting .199 (.555) in his previous 57 games. Swisher has hit .326 (14-for-43) with five homers and 12 RBI in his last 11 games, after hitting .215 (.642) in his previous 80 games.
“It’s like Tito told us in Spring Training,” Swisher said, “bad teams pick each other apart and good teams pick each other up.”
SECOND: The Indians were tasked with taking on 22-year-old rookie Yordano (no, I will not call him Ace) Ventura on Tuesday night. The hard-throwing right-hander was starting in place of injured lefty Danny Duffy and making his Major League debut.
I’ve heard plenty from fans — via Twitter, e-mail, etc; — about Cleveland’s inability to handle pitchers making their debut. It turns out it is more of a very recent trend, if you can even call it that, more than anything else.
Including Ventura, five starting pitchers have made their big league debut against the Indians over the 2012-13 seasons, posting a 2.79 ERA as a group. Dating back to 2009, the nine starters who made their debut vs. Cleveland combined for a 3.83 ERA. That ERA spikes to 4.52 if you combine the past 15 starting debuts against the Tribe.
Prior to facing Ventura, Indians manager Terry Francona noted that pitches almost always have the advantage in a first-appearance situation. The Royals righty certainly appeared to have the edge on Tuesday, scattering five hits and holding the Indians to one run over 5 2/3 innings.
What made him so effective?
“Other than the fact that he was throwing 100 mph?” Swisher said with a laugh. “You’ve never seen the guy. You get scouting reports, but those aren’t always right. So, yeah, we’ve just got to get ready for that next time. He really went out and did a good job. He obviously had a plus fastball. he was using his cutter a lot more than we expected. I felt like he was just setting up shop on my knuckles all day.”
Bourn was asked if Ventura reminded him of any other pitchers.
“Neftali Feliz for some reason. I don’t know why,” Bourn said. “He just looked like him out there to me. Just the way his delivery is, that’s how he reminded me of him. He’s good, man. He’s got some good stuff. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be around for a while for their organization, so we better get used to facing him.”
THIRD: Swisher called Tuesday’s tilt a “must-win” game and Francona certainly managed like it.
Indians starter Corey Kluber was at 79 pitches with two outs in the fifth inning when Francona emerged from the visitors’ dugout and turned to his bullpen. The right-hander had been spotty with his command to that point and Francona wanted to stop the bleeding.
And, with 15 relievers in the bullpen thanks to September’s expanded rosters, Francona had the luxury to go that route.
“You can’t do that in the middle of the season,” Francona said. “We used a bunch of our roster tonight and it helped us win.”
Rich Hill, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski, Cody Allen, Joe Smith and Chris Perez combined for 4.1 shutout innings, keeping Kansas City to three runs. That provided Cleveland’s lineup time to mount a rally against a strong Royals bullpen.
“Every last one of their dudes throws hard. Every last one of them,” Bourn said of the KC ‘pen. “You’ve got to be ready and try to do what you can against them. That doesn’t happen too often against them, but we were able to do it tonight.”
That helped lay the groundwork for a great comeback road win for the Tribe.
“Tonight was one of the more gratifying wins I’ve been a part of,” Francona said.
HOME: That’s where the Indians are headed on Wednesday. Back home for the final six regular-season games at Progressive Field this year. The Indians will arrive in Ohio with its first winning season since 2007 secured, and still very much in the thick of the wide-open Wild Card race in the American League.
Looking around Kauffman Stadium, the Indians saw and felt a playoff-type environment. The crowd was fired up for every pitch, on its feet for critical moments throughout the night, and providing an energy that the Tribe hopes to experience back in front of its local fans.
“I liked it, man,” Bourn said of the crowd in Kansas City on Tuesday. “It was a good atmosphere. Kansas City’s fans came out and supported their team. We’re just hoping for the same when we get back to Cleveland. We’ve only got one more homestand for the whole year, so we would like that.
“It’s our last week and a half. We just want somebody to be behind us to help push us to that playoff spot. When you play in that atmosphere, you like it. It gets your blood flowing. It felt like a playoff atmosphere — it did. They came out and supported their team. Hats off to their fans. They’re behind them. We want the same thing.”
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD RACE
1. Texas 82-68 (–)
2. Tampa Bay 82-68 (–)
3. Cleveland 82-69 (0.5)
4. Baltimore 80-70 (2.0)
t-5. New York 79-72 (3.5)
t-5. Kansas City 79-72 (3.5)
Indians (82-69) at Royals (79-71)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium