Covering the Bases: Game 47

BalkOffFinal: Indians 11, Tigers 10 (13 innings)

FIRST: Well, that was something. I’ve seen balks and I’ve covered plenty of walk-offs, but Wednesday marked the first balk-off of my career. Cleveland isn’t going to complain about the manner in which it won. The Indians won and they completed a sweep of the rival Tigers.

Cleveland went 4-15 against Detroit last year and is now 4-1 against the Motor City this year.

These were three days that the Tribe needed in a bad way.

“We took enormous steps this week,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “to getting that personality and that chemistry and all the things you talk about that you’re dying to get to. We took some enormous strides getting there.”

This one felt like a boxing match. Detroit scored four in the first, so Cleveland scored six in the first two innings. Detroit added one in the third. So did the Tribe. The Tigers scored two more in the fifth and another pair in the eighth. The Indians knotted things up again with two in the ninth. Detroit scored one in the 13th, and Cleveland answered with two for the win.

“A few weeks ago, we really didn’t show a whole lot of fight. Things weren’t working out,” Indians right fielder David Murphy said. “From our very first at-bat, you knew our offense was going to be up to something today. It was a lot of fun to watch. I wish it wouldn’t have taken 5 1/2 hours, but it was a lot of fun.”

Three days ago, the Indians were still dealing with the embarrassment of their three-game brooming at the hands of the A’s. Oakland trounced the Tribe 11-1 on Friday. The A’s then lost Scott Kazmir to an ejection in the second inning Saturday and still pulled of a 6-2 win (one riddled with errors by Cleveland). On Sunday, the Indians were routed 13-3.

Meanwhile, Detroit came to Cleveland riding a six-game winning streak and having won 15 of 18 games.

In the three losses to Oakland, the Indians hit .191 as a team, went 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position and ended with six runs scored, three home runs and five extra-base hits. In the three wins over the Tigers, Cleveland hit .347 as a team, went 15-for-42 with RISP and ended with 22 runs, four home runs and 16 extra-base hits.

“This game is crazy,” Tigers closer Joe Nathan said. “These guys get swept and absolutely boatraced by Oakland before we get here. We’re playing as good as we’ve played all season before we get here. And who would’ve seen this happening? I don’t think anybody. But it’s a crazy game.”

Crazy, indeed.

Nathan gave up a game-tying, two-run home run to Murphy in the ninth inning, sending the contest into extra innings. Josh Tomlin (Cleveland’s planned starter for Thursday) logged the last three innings and gave up a solo homer to Alex Avila in the 13th. In the home half of that frame, Michael Brantley delivered a game-tying RBI single and, three batters later, Ryan Raburn was at the plate when reliever Al Alburquerque flinched for a balk with the bases loaded and two outs.

“Do I get an RBI for that?” Raburn joked.

Cleveland used 21 players, including nine pitchers who combined for 269 pitches. The game lasted five hours and 16 minutes, marking the longest game at Progressive Field since Aug. 30, 2008. The balk-off was the first in the Majors since July 4, 2011 (White Sox over Royals) and only the 13th such walk-off win in baseball, dating back to 1974.

Murphy put it best.

“I don’t even know where to start with that game,” he said. “I don’t really know if that was a baseball game, or a marathon combined with a circus.”

SECOND: The circus’ first act was another disaster of a performance by Indians starter Zach McAllister. the big right-hander lasted only two batters into the third inning, when he gave up a leadoff homer to Victor Martinez before walking J.D. Martinez.

McAllister finished with five runs allowed (four earned) on five hits with two strikeouts and two walks in two-plus innings, in which he gave up two homers and threw 59 pitches (36 strikes).

“I felt good up there. The way my body feels, everything feels great. I’m happy with that,” McAllister said. “Again, it’s two starts in a row that have not gone well for me at all. I know I can pitch better. I know what our offense did today is awesome, our offense picked every one of our pitchers up and our bullpen did a tremendous job of helping me out.”

In his previous start, McAllister surrendered a four-spot to the A’s in the second inning on Friday. Over his past 5.2 innings of work (covering three outings), he has surrendered 18 runs (17 earned) on 20 hits with six walks, seven strikeouts and four home runs. Over his past six outings, McAllister has gone 0-4 with a 9.51 ERA and 1.86 WHIP after opening the season 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in four starts.

After his latest struggle, Francona hesitated when asked what he thinks is troubling the righty.

“You know what? I don’t know,” Francona said. “I think 10 minutes after a game, it’s kind of hard to digest, especially after a game like this. I think I want to talk to [pitching coach Mickey Callaway] a little bit about it. I know they’ve been spending some time together. He was on such a nice roll for a while and it’s been rough lately. I’d rather kind of regroup and kind of see where we’re at.”

THIRD: The Indians have had their share off offensive issues. Three bright spots have been third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (.367 in 34 games), Brantley (.302 in 45 games) and Murphy (.294 in 43 games). That trio combined to go 8-for-18 with two homers, three doubles, six runs and eight RBIs in Wednesday’s walk-off win over the Tigers.

At the moment, Brantley appears to be Cleveland’s top All-Star candidate.

“Brantley just continues to be so good in so many areas,” Francona said. “Defensively or on the bases, and certainly hitting. He’s just turning into a premiere player. It’s kind of like when [Jason Kipnis] got going last year on that run. Brantley’s kind of getting in that boat where he’s one of the better players in the league right now.”

HOME: Two of the betters pitchers in the league right now, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, were worked hard and abused by Cleveland’s offense over the past two games. Verlander gave up five runs in the first two innings on Tuesday and Scherzer allowed seven runs in the first three innings on Wednesday. They then showed their value by finishing with six innings and seven innings, respectively.

“They’ve won two out of the last three Cy Youngs,” Murphy said. “Obviously, they’re incredible pitchers. They have great stuff. All the same, for instance, Scherzer today, he was leaving balls middle earlier in the game, and we were making him pay. He’s got the type of stuff that he can get away with leaving stuff in the middle of the zone, but when our offense is hot like it was today, we were doing a good job of driving the ball.

“He obviously settled down in the later innings, but any time you put up seven on the reigning Cy Young winner, I think that’s a pretty good day. Those guys are workhorses. Whatever the benchmark is for a normal starting pitcher, 100 pitches, those guys are always going 110-120. They eat innings as much as any pitcher, on top of having incredible stuff. Those are two guys that everybody would love to have at the top of their rotation.”

EXTRA: There will be roster moves coming for the Indians on Thursday. After going through the entire bullpen (with the exception of Cody Allen) and using Tomlin, Cleveland will need a starter for Thursday and also some relief reinforcements. Two starting pitching possibilities are right-handers Kyle Davies and Travis Banwart, through neither are on the 40-man roster. A subsequent move would be required. Lefty T.J. House would make sense, but he was just optioned back to Triple-A Tuesday, so he is not eligible to come back yet (unless someone is placed on the disabled list). As for McAllister, I’m not sure what the Tribe can do. With no off-day, McAllister can’t be skipped. He could be sent down, but there’s no clear replacement at the moment. Righty Danny Salazar was optioned on Friday, so he’s not eligible to return by McAllister’s next scheduled turn, either. Maybe they can ask Jason Giambi if his right calf is still sore? We’ll find out Thursday what the moves will be. Cleveland had a flight to Baltimore to catch after Wednesday’s debacle.

NOTE: I will be off for the upcoming road trip through Baltimore and Chicago. Keeping checking Indians.com and following @tribeinsider and @Indians for updates. Believe me, I’d much rather be hitting the road. I’m having my wisdom teeth removed this week. Good times!

On deck:

Indians (22-25) at Orioles (23-20)
at 7:05 p.m. ET  Thursday at Camden Yards

–JB

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