Covering the Bases: Game 159
FIRST: There are to things to note from the immediate aftermath of this win that felt like a loss.
The first is that Indians manager Terry Francona, who always goes great lengths to defend and support his players, was non-committal when it came to sticking with Chris Perez in the closer role. The second item of note is that Perez swung by the manager’s office after giving up four runs in the ninth and told Francona he doesn’t want to keep hurting the team.
“He popped his head in here after the game and was actually really good about it,” Francona said. “He was like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to cost us games, because I’m not locating.’ We’ll figure it out.”
So, the Indians plan on figuring it out.
Francona emphasized that “five or 10 minutes after the game” is not the time to make any decisions. With GM Chris Antonetti in town, though, you can bet that they’ll meet and weight their options for the ninth inning, especially with a Wild Card playoff berth within reach.
This is not a two-bad-outings situation for Perez. This, now, is two bad months. Dating back to Aug. 1, Perez has posted a 7.52 ERA to go along with a .345 opponents’ average (30-for-87) with a 1.87 WHIP in 20.1 innings. Within that span, he has allowed seven home runs, including three in his past two appearances.
On Tuesday, Jason Giambi bailed Perez out after his blown save with a pinch-hit, walk-off miracle shot against the White Sox. On Thursday at Target Field, sidearmer Joe Smith picked Perez up by striking out pinch-hitter Oswaldo Arcia to end the game, sealing Cleveland’s seventh win in a row.
There is no denying Perez’s track record. His 124 saves for Cleveland are the third-most for a pitcher in team history. He saved 39 a year ago in a 68-win season, saved 36 in 2011 and made the All-Star team in both years. Shoot, across the first four months this season, he had a 2.41 ERA and a .206 opponents’ average. There has always been a bit of drama, but Perez has always been good.
Lately, however, that has not been the case.
And now there are possible postseason games on the line.
“He felt bad,” Francona said of his chat with Perez. “It was actually very team oriented. That’s what you’re looking for. He’s having a tough time and he’s owning up to it, and he doesn’t want to cost us wins.”
So what are the Indians’ options? Smith obviously comes to mind, as does Cody Allen, though at 76 appearances, he has been worked hard to this point. The most intriguing possibility would seem to be sinkerballer Justin Masterson, who is in a relief role right now. Of course, given the recent oblique injury, it is not clear if Masterson could appear in consecutive games.
Francona was asked if, save situation or any other situation, Perez would be available to pitch on Friday.
“I don’t know that, either,” answered the manager. “We’ll see. Again, we’ll take stock like we do every day and have a lot more rational thinking. That’s the way to do things.”
SECOND: In my office at home, I have a Minnie Minoso bobblehead on a shelf above my desk. That was my mom’s favorite player, though from his White Sox days, not from his time in Cleveland. Sorry, Ma grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Nobody’s perfect.
With that in mind, what Michael Brantley has now accomplished for the Indians is pretty cool in my book. He is the first Indians batter since Minoso in 1959 to enjoy four consecutive games with at least three hits and at least one RBI. It has only been done four times in Indians history.
The Major League record (at least since 1916) is five such games in a row by Gee Walker in 1936. Going back to 1950, it has only happened 12 times.
Not since Kenny Lofton in 1995 has a Cleveland hitter churned out three-plus hits in four straight games.
“He’s staying on the ball,” Francona said of Brantley. “He’s staying through the ball. He’s using the whole ball park, and it couldn’t come at a better time.”
Brantley’s hitting a smooth .500 (20-for-40) over his past 10 games for Cleveland.
Not to be overlooked, Yan Gomes went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer and two runs scored.
THIRD: Zach McAllister gave the Indians 4.1 shutout innings, holding the Twins to six hits and ending with three strikeouts and two walks. With one out in the fifth, McAllister gave up a walk to Alex Presley and a single to Brian Dozier, convincing Francona to turn to the bullpen.
There was a little more to the move than was immediately apparent, though.
“His [left] side was kind of stiff,” Francona said. “He was having a hard time getting out all the way to extension. He was kind of dodging traffic the whole night. His heart was in the right place. I jus thought that he had given us enough and it wouldn’t be fair to him to let him give up runs.
“I just thought it was time. If I’d have been managing with my heart, I’d have left him in.”
McAllister said he was a bit surprised Francona had such a quick hook.
“A little bit,” said the pitcher. “As a starter, you definitely want a chance to get the win out there and try to stay in the game as long as you can. But it’s September now, we have a lot of guys in the bullpen and every game’s an important one. You can’t question anything. I understand why.”
Bryan Shaw has been the hot hand this month — no runs allowed in 15.1 IP with 15 strikeouts and two walks — and he continued his run against the Twins. After taking over for McAllister, Shaw needed only one pitch to induce an inning-ending double play off the bat of Ryan Doumit.
HOME: The way the game ended, it was easy to forget one pretty important fact…
… the Indians won.
“And that’s what we set out to do,” Francona said. “That got a little closer than we wanted, but we won. Any time you hear music playing, especially this time of year, [it’s good]. But that was a little nerve-wracking.”
The Indians have now won 12 of 14 to improve to 18-6 in September. Cleveland also has posted a 21-win improvement from a season ago, marking the second-largest year-to-year jump in victories in franchise history. Excluding strike-shortened seasons, the club record is a 24-win jump from 1985 to ’86.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WILD CARD RACE
1. Tampa Bay 90-69 (+1)
2. Cleveland 89-70 (–-)
3. Texas 88-71 (-1)
Indians (89-70) at Twins (66-93)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Friday at Target Field