Covering the Bases: Game 154
FIRST: Welcome to the Wild Card spot, Cleveland.
With the music blaring inside the clubhouse, and rain falling outside, there was not a single player complaining about the weather delay that arrived in the seventh inning on Friday night. Why would they complain?
When the skies opened and the tarp unrolled, the Indians had a 2-1 lead and the game was official. With the playoffs now a realistic goal, the Tribe needs as many wins as possible, and the team doesn’t care how those victories are obtained.
“Any way we can,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
“A win is a win,” said pitcher Zach McAllister.
“You can’t be mad about going home with a win,” Nick Swisher beamed.
Especially when the win in question helped the Indians leapfrog the Rangers for one of the American League’s two Wild Cards. Texas (a half-game up on the Tribe heading into Friday) lost to Kansas City, which is also very much in the hunt. As of this writing, Tampa Bay and Baltimore — two more contenders — were tied in the 14th inning. That said, the result of that game doesn’t change the Indians’ place in the standings.
Francona made it clear that the decision to call the game early came via the umpires and the league. The final call was not up to the Indians.
The TVs were tuned to the relevant games inside the clubhouse during the delay, and the Progressive Field scoreboard did a split-screen of the Texas-Kansas City and Baltimore-Tampa Bay tilts. The fans who tried to wait out the storm, while sheltered under the stadium’s overhangs, cheered loudly for the Orioles when they scored a couple late runs.
“That’s nice,” Swisher said. “It kind of feels like everybody is jumping on board right now. This is the perfect time to do it.”
There are eight games left on Cleveland’s schedule against the Astros, White Sox and Twins. Cleveland has gone 13-6 in September and 10-5 since the nine-game gauntlet (3-6) against Detroit, Atlanta and Baltimore. Everyone noted that the Tribe simply needed to take care of business against the teams it should beat, and the team has done so with an 8-1 mark in recent games against the Mets, White Sox and Astros.
“This is pretty close to being playoff baseball right now,” Swisher said. “For us, we’ve got ourselves a good schedule ahead of us. Then again, These guys [Astros] are doing a good job. Look at their pitchers, man. We have a pretty good hitting offense and we haven’t really done much.”
“For us,” he added later, “as best we can, we’ve got to keep our heads out of those papers and really keep to the grindstone, because we’ve got ourselves in a great spot. Just to be able to be here, a complete turnaround from last year, it’s exciting, man. These last [eight] games are going to be great.”
SECOND: You could make an argument that the Indians didn’t win this game, but that the Astros lost it.
Houston made three errors, and one miscue that went down as a fielder’s choice officially, that led directly to Cleveland’s two runs against lefty Brett Olberholtzer. Third baseman Brandon Laird booted two plays in the second (one to allow Asdrubal Cabrera to reach and another with the bases loaded that led to the Indians’ first run).
In the fourth, first baseman Chris Carter had a shot at a double play with one out and runners on first and second. He threw into left field, and then left fielder Marc Krauss threw wildly beyond home plate, and we all heard circus music as Cleveland took a 2-1 lead.
“Obie was outstanding,” Houston manager Bo Porter said. “Even you look at the two runs they scored, both of them were unearned. If we made a couple of defensive plays, we arguably could be standing here with a 1-0 victory. He pitched that well.”
The Indians certainly felt fortunate.
“We didn’t do a whole lot with it,” Francona said. “But fortunately we did enough.”
THIRD: Francona summed up McAllister’s outing perfectly:
“Zach kind of bent, but didn’t break.”
McAllister logged five innings (plus one batter in the sixth) and, unlike Olberholtzer, was able to thank his defense after the game. Center fielder Michael Bourn made a great diving catch to open the game, Cabrera made an outstanding barehanded grab for an out in the third and second baseman Jason Kipnis and Cabrera teamed for a critical double play with the bags full and one out in the fifth.
“That fifth inning, I left a few balls up and fell behind hitters,” said McAllister, who had four hits, three strikeouts and two walks on his line. “When you do that, you’re asking for trouble. But we were able to have some great defense behind me. They made a huge double play for me. That was extremely important.”
After McAllister walked Jose Altuve on four pitches to open the sixth inning, Francona turned to his bullpen.
“There’s so many factors that go into it,” Francona said of that decision. “There’s a lot of times during the season [where] you can’t do that. But with a full bullpen, you can do that now.”
One of the factors might be that McAllister headed into Friday’s start with a .355 opponents’ batting average and a .985 opponents’ OPS in the 76-100 pitch range. His fourth pitch to Altuve, the last toss of the night for the righty, was No. 76 for McAllister.
HOME: One of Cleveland’s unsung heroes down the stretch has been right-handed reliever Bryan Shaw. After McAllister, Francona turned to lefty Marc Rzepczynski for one batter, and then had Shaw finish out the game. Thanks to the rain delay, Shaw notched his first save of the season.
Dating back to July 6, Shaw has posted a 1.95 ERA and .178 opponents’ average over 31 games (32.1 innings). The righty has a 1.33 ERA and .155 average against in 19 games (20.1 innings) going back to Aug. 12. In September, Shaw has posted a 0.00 ERA in 11 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts, no walks and a .154 opponents’ average.
“He’s topping the guns at 95, 96,” Swisher said. “It’s nice to see that, especially this late in the season. To be able to have that much juice left is impressive. He’s gone out there and has had some serious innings logged for us.”
Astros (51-103) at Indians (84-70)
at 6:05 p.m. ET Friday at Progressive Field