Covering the Bases: Game 153
FIRST: His nickname is Crash Carson.
That stems from a full-throttle sprint that resulted in a painful crash into the center-field wall at The Coliseum during Matt Carson’s stint with Oakland a few years back. Search YouTube. But, you’d be fine with thinking it had its roots from Crash Davis, the career Minor Leaguer from the baseball movie, “Bull Durham.” Shoot, Carson even had a stint with the Durham Bulls.
Carson has spent a dozen years in the Minor Leagues — six of those at Triple-A — and only six percent of his 1,334 professional games have come at the big league level. There have been stops with Staten Island, Battle Creek, Tampa, Trenton, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Sacramento, Durham, Rochester and, this year, Columbus.
Mixed in have been cups of coffee with the A’s, Twins and Indians.
“Man, I’ve crisscrossed the country quite a few times playing this game,” Carson said. “It’s been a good journey.”
It all led to Thursday night in Cleveland.
A perfect storm led to Carson walking to the plate with the bases loaded in the 11th inning of a tie game with Houston. In the bottom of the ninth, Indians manager Terry Francona turned to veteran Jason Giambi as a pinch hitter for Drew Stubbs. Giambi popped out to end the inning, so the manager sent Carson out to right field as a defensive replacement.
Two innings later, with Astros righty Rhiner Cruz on the mound and the bags full of Indians, Francona had the option of sending Carson to the plate, or turning to Ryan Raburn or Jason Kubel. Francona said he did not really considering pinch hitting in that situation.
“No, I really didn’t,” Francona said. “There’s a few reasons. One, he’s so good defensively. We weren’t losing. We got the pitcher’s spot coming up the next inning, and we got Raburn and Kubel, and Ray’s not running great. So, sometimes you just stay out of the way and let them play.”
Carson made good on his manager’s faith, sending a pitch from Cruz past a diving Jose Altuve for a walk-off single. As he rounded first base, and broke into a wide smile, infielder Mike Aviles embraced the long-time Minor Leaguer, who was then mobbed by his teammates.
“It’s the greatest feeling,” Carson said. “I’ve done it plenty of times going out there with other guys. To be the guy getting mobbed, it feels good.”
Carson said it was a moment he’ll never forget.
“That’s probably kind of a pinnacle for me at this point in my career,” he said. “To do it for a playoff team like we have right now, in a win that we needed, like I said, it was tops for me.”
And, considering the kind of career he’s had, experiencing the top certainly beats scraping the bottom.
In nine at-bats with Cleveland since being promoted from Triple-A, Carson has seven hits, including three in the Tribe’s recent 7-1 win over Chris Sale and the White Sox in Chicago.
“There’s been lot of low points. Lots of low points,” Carson said. “There’s going to be highs and lows. Being in the Minor Leagues as long as I have, there’s definitely been those times. As long as I’m still playing the game, it can’t be that low.”
Following the game, while doing his sit-down with reporters, Francona smiled as he heard his players — in the clubhouse across the hall — yelled and celebrated when Carson walked in the room.
“You can hear the guys in there right now,” Francona said. “Everybody’s pretty fond of him. He’s the kind of kid that, went to Triple-A the whole year, comes to Spring Training, does a great job, everybody likes him. … He’s come up and impacted the Major League team. He goes in, he plays defense, he gets hits. It’s kind of rewarding to see a good kid get rewarded like that and get a hit.”
SECOND: Ubaldo Jimenez once again set the tone for Cleveland with a strong start. The right-hander wound up with a no-decision, as did Houston lefty Dallas Keuchel for his seven innings, but held the Astros to one run on six hits in seven frames.
Big U finished with nine strikeouts and zero walks. In the first 205 games of Jimenez’s career, he never had an outing with at least nine strikeouts and no walks. He’s accomplished that feat three times in his past five starts for the Indians.
“I feel good. I feel confident every time I take the mound,” Jimenez said. “It feels great to be out there for the team, knowing that I can be the game’s difference. I can be there for the team competing. Pretty much every five days that I get on the mound, I’m going to give everything that I have for the team.”
Dating back to May 27, Jimenez has posted a 2.45 ERA across 21 games. Over his past 10 starts, the righty has a 1.77 ERA to go along with 80 strikeouts and 23 walks in 71 innings.
“We’re leaning on him,” Francona said. “And I think he’s enjoying it. Every five days, he’s answering the bell. He’s consistent with his stuff, and that’s past encouraging. That’s exciting.”
THIRD: There are a few things I could go over here. Catcher Yan Gome’s arm: throwing out Altuve on a stolen-base attempt in the third inning or picking pinch-runner Jake Elmore off second base in the 10th. Chris Perez’s ninth inning: bases loaded with one out before striking out the next two to escape unscathed.
“Everybody might be nervous, except for [Perez],” Francona said with a chuckle.
Or, there was Nick Swisher’s bat: four hits to tie a season-high and career-high. Given that performance, it was a little surprising that Francona turned to rookie Jose Ramirez as a pinch runner for Swisher at second base with two on and one out in the eighth inning. Houston reliever Kevin Chapman struck out Carlos Santana and Gomes to stop the Tribe’s rally in its tracks.
As a result, Cleveland lost the designated hitter, because Santana (the DH) had to move to first base with Swisher pulled from the game.
What was Francona’s thinking?
“We needed to try to win there,” Francona explained. “[Swisher] had gotten all of his hits right-handed, and they were done with their left-handed pitchers. … We had enough guys on the bench where we could … In the normal course of a year, you probably can’t do that. But when you have extra guys, you feel a little bit better about doing it.”
What was Swisher’s reaction to the decision to use a pinch runner there?
“‘Man, you better score!’ That’s what I was thinking,” Swisher said. “Jose, man, he can fly. A situation like that, he’s got way more speed than me. All we’re doing is looking for a base hit, trying to win that game.”
HOME: In a recent meeting with his teammates, Giambi stressed the importance of putting egos and personal stats aside in these final games. Right now, doing something, big or small, to help win a game is more important than polishing up the ol’ season stat line. That means, it doesn’t matter who plays the role of hero.
Everyone on the roster has a chance to come up big. That is the kind of environment Francona has tried to create.
“I think it’s a fun way to play,” Francona said. “when everybody in that room knows that they’ve got a chance to be in the game. Sometimes in the American League, you throw nine guys out there and you play. Our guys know that when they show up, they all have a chance to get in and help us win.”
Carson saw that from afar before joining the Tribe for its stretch run.
“Being down in the Minor Leagues,” Carson said, “watching these guys play, every day it was a different hero. I certainly wasn’t the only hero tonight. You saw how Ubaldo threw and our bullpen threw. Those guys, you’ve got to tip your hat to those guys. They were getting it done as well.”
Cleveland has had 10 walk-off wins this season, with nine players coming through with the game-winning hit.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD RACE
t-1. Tampa Bay 83-69 (–)
t-1. Texas 83-69 (–-)
3. Cleveland 83-70 (0.5)
4. Baltimore 81-71 (2.0)
5. Kansas City 80-72 (3.0)
6. New York 80-73 (3.5)
Astros (51-102) at Indians (83-70)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Friday at Progressive Field