Covering the Bases: Game 35

508CabreraFinal: Indians 9, Twins 4

FIRST: Asdrubal Cabrera sensed the group of reporters gathering behind him at his locker. The Indians shortstop glanced back, shook his head and gave a wave of his hand.

“Don’t wait for me,” he said

On a day to celebrate Cabrera, he exercised his right to decline comment. That didn’t stop manager Terry Francona or Cabrera’s teammates from raving about the shortstop’s showing on Thursday.

In a rout of the Twins that wrapped up a 5-2 homestand, Cabrera went 4-for-5 at the plate with one home run, two doubles, two runs and three RBIs. He fell a triple short of the cycle, though he actually made it to third base on his two-base hit in the eighth. The official scorer gave Cabrera a double and deemed that he advanced to third on the relay throw from right field to the plate.

“He had a cycle. They took it away,” Francona said. “I’m not really sure. I have to look at the rules, but he never broke stride. I’m not sure that really isn’t a triple. I don’t know if I’m begging, but when you see the ball get by the right fielder and Cabby never broke stride, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets changed back.”

The official scorer was none other than long-time Indians beat reporter Sheldon Ocker, who retired prior to this season after 30-plus years covering the Tribe. This marked Ocker’s first game working as an official scorer and, as the baseball gods usually see fit, he was given a tough call on Day 1.

“I thought he retired,” Francona quipped.

Was it a triple?

Said left fielder Michael Brantley: “Absolutely. He worked hard for that. Those don’t come every day. He ran the whole time, didn’t look back, didn’t stutter step. I want it for him. He deserves it.”

Added infielder Mike Aviles: “I think so. I think when we’re at home, it has to be a triple. Obviously, the official scorer doesn’t think so. He gave him it at first, which I thought was weird, to just take it away right away. And you can tell him I said that.”

Travis Hafner remains the last Indians batter to hit for a cycle, doing so on Aug. 14, 2003 in Minnesota.

Cycle or not, Cabrera still had himself a day.

Cabby launched a leadoff homer in the second and then contributed an RBI double in each of the seventh and eighth innings. Since snapping an 0-for-13 slump on Wednesday — a drought that came within a 5-for-40 showing over a 13-game span — Cabrera has gone 6-for-7 at the plate with four extra-base hits.

“It’s great,” Brantley said. “We’ve been doing a great job picking him up as a team, making sure that he knows we’re still in his corner. Keep working, keep fighting. He’s been working his tail in the cage, early work. We’ve been watching it. It’s good to see it pay off. It’s going to continue to pay off. He’s a great player.”

Cabrera’s four-hit showing lifted his season average to just .238 through 35 games. The shortstop’s early-season production has been skewed by drastic lefty-righty splits. Batting left-handed against righties, he headed into Thursday with a .173/.271/.213 slash line. As a righty versus left-handers, Cabrera had a .283/.340/.478 slash line. It was encouraging for Cleveland that Cabrera’s outburst Thursday came from the left side of the plate.

“That shows you how smart I was,” Francona said. “I was going to give him the day off. He talked me out of it.”

SECOND: Cabrera was hardly alone in Thursday’s offensive outpouring.

The Indians matched a season high with 15 hits and set a season high with nine extra-base hits and seven doubles. Six players had at least one hit, while four had multi-hit showings. In fact, those four — Brantley (3-for-5), Cabrera (4-for-5), Aviles (3-for-4) and David Murphy (3-for-4) gave Cleveland its first game with four players collecting at least three hits apiece since April 18, 2009 (Hafner, Mark DeRosa, Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta).

“Hitting is contagious,” Brantley said. “One hit goes and another hit goes and you kind of just lean on one another. It was fun to be a part of today.”

Over the six-game homestand, the Indians hit .261 as a team with 34 runs (4.9 per game) on 60 hits, including 26 for extra bases. During the 0-6 road trip through San Francisco and Anaheim, just prior to the homestand, Cleveland hit .183 as a team with 13 runs (2.2 per game) on 35 hits, including 10 for extra bases. It’s worth noting that 21 of the runs at home came in two games (12 on Friday and nine Thursday).

“We’re still inconsistent in some things,” Francona said. “But we’re doing a lot of things better than we were. This whole homestand, we played with a lead [a lot]. The two games we lost, we lost late. I think we’re playing with a little more confidence, a little more purpose. It’s just a little better feel and I think that’s good.”

THIRD: Short of back-to-back losses by closer John Axford, who blew a save Sunday and gave up the decisive home run in extra innings on Monday, Cleveland could have swept the seven games at home against the White Sox and Twins. The main reason for that was the consistent starting pitching.

Over the last seven games, the Tribe rotation went a combined 4-0 with a 1.94 ERA (10 earned runs in 46.1 innings), .198 opponents’ average, 3.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio (51-to-13), 0.99 WHIP and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. On the 0-6 road trip, the starting staff combined to go 0-5 with a 5.05 ERA (21 earned runs in 34.1 innings), .262 opponents’ average, 2.69 K:BB (35-to-13), 1.37 WHIP and 9.2 K/9.

“Our pitching gave us a chance every single game,” Francona said. “That’s a good way to play. I think we believe that we’re going to hit. Hitters go up and down, for sure, but when you pitch that consistently, you always have a chance to win.”

On Thursday, Justin Masterson picked up the win after turning in 6.1 innings, in which he was charged with four runs (two earned) on four hits. He struck out seven, walked four, hit one batter and threw a wild pitch. Masterson cruised through the first five frames on 50 pitches before hitting a few snags in the sixth and seventh.

HOME: During the recent road trip, not only did the Indians lose six straight, but they yanked Carlos Carrasco out of the rotation and lost second baseman Jason Kipnis to an oblique injury. All Josh Tomlin did as Carrasco’s replacement was spin a gem on Tuesday for a win. As for Aviles, he has excelled as Cleveland’s fill-in for its All-Star second baseman.

Since replacing Kipnis in the April 29 game in Anaheim, all Aviles has done is hit .545 (12-for-22) with three doubles and four runs for Cleveland.

“What Mike Aviles has done this year for us hs been huge, man,” Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. “He’s showing everybody how athletic he is.”

Asked by a reporter if the baseball looks like a beach ball right now, Aviles laughed.

“Did you see my hits? They were bloops. It can’t be a beach ball,” he said. “In baseball, you go up, down, up, down, up, down and, fortunately enough, things are going well for myself and for the team. I’ll take it while I can. There will be times when I’ll hit balls hard, the team will hit balls hard, and it will be right at people. We’ll take them when we can.”


On deck:

Indians (16-19) at Rays (15-19)*
at 7:10 p.m. ET Friday at Tropicana Field

*doesn’t include Thursday’s night result


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