Covering the Bases: Game 69
Final: Indians 3, Red Sox 2
FIRST: It is extremely difficult to win a game in the manner the Indians did on Saturday. We’ll get to the details of this scratch-and-claw victory in a second, though.
First, let’s take a moment — in this season chalk full of defensive miscues — to appreciate a gorgeous play that helped Cleveland clinch its trip to the win column.
“I thought Kip made a play off Ortiz’s ball that saved the game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
That’d be Tribe second baseman Jason Kipnis, who did indeed make a stellar play in the eighth inning against Boston slugger David Ortiz. With the shift in place, Kipnis was playing more toward first, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was on the right side of second base and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was shaded toward second in shortstop territory.
With Cleveland clinging to a 3-2 lead, reliever Bryan Shaw issued a leadoff walk to Dustin Pedroia. That set up the clash with Ortiz, who had a game-changing homer on Thursday, three walks Friday and an RBI double off the wall in right already on Saturday.
“The inning didn’t obviously start the way we wanted it to,” Kipnis said. “Shaw could tell you that. You can’t come out and throw balls like that and just let them right on base. You’ve got to make them earn it.”
Shaw was bailed out when Ortiz drilled a 3-1 pitch into the shift and at Kipnis, who snared the ball after it took a sharp hop to the second baseman’s right. As Kipnis prepared to throw to second, Cabrera dropped to the dirt to avoid the baseball. Chisenhall — once a shortstop — handled the relay well and fired it to first to complete the double play.
“That’s a rocket,” Francona said.
“He hit it pretty hard,” Kipnis agreed. “The thing was the top spin on it — just getting the ball. As long as you can field it, you guys know as well as I do, you’ve got some time with him going down the [line].”
There were some chuckles among the press corps at that point, so the savvy Kipnis quickly corrected what could have been perceived as a shot at Big Papi’s “speed.”
“No,” Kipnis said, “usually, it’s because all he has to do is jog for most of his hits. He’s one of those guys where, he hits the ball so hard, you have a lot of time.”
Nice save, Kip.
SECOND: Now, back to where we started. This was a rare win for Cleveland in terms of how it was accomplished.
The Indians went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and finished with 13 runners left on base. The Tribe had four bases-loaded situations (granted, each came with two outs) and the only run produced out of that came via a walk from Carlos Santana in the seventh. Cleveland’s other runs came courtesy of 1) an RBI double from Asdrubal Cabrera, who was promptly thrown out trying to advance to third, and 2) a missed-catch error by Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, allowing Cabrera to score from third in the seventh.
Hey, whatever works, right?
“We’re going to have to win some games like that,” Francona said. “You face good pitching, good bullpens, teams that play good defense. There’s all kinds of reasons.”
That said, this marked the first time since Aug. 19, 1984 that the Indians won a game with no more than three runs scored, along with at least 13 runners stranded and at least an 0-for-11 showing with runners in scoring position. Cleveland did so against the Brewers in that game 30 years ago. Don Sutton was on the mound for the Brewers, who also had former Indians Rick Manning in center field for that game, which was the second tilt of a double header.
The Indians aren’t going to complain about how they got the win. After losing four in a row, Cleveland was content with how things went.
“This is a good win,” Kipnis said. “This is a win we haven’t had in the last couple games. Usually, when we strand a lot of the runners and don’t come up with the big hit, we’re usually on the down side of things. … A win is a win, but after the little skid we’ve been going through, to have this kind of win is what we needed.”
THIRD: To pick up such a win, it obviously takes a solid effort on the pitching side of things. Lefty T.J. House looked a little shaky in the first inning, but he recovered nicely and lasted two batters and one out into the sixth inning for the Tribe. House wound up being charged with two runs, though the second came following his trip to the showers.
With a runner on third and one out in the sixth, Francona turned to reliever John Axford to face Mike Napoli. After falling behind, 3-0, Axford worked the count full before walking Napoli. The first reaction after the walk from Axford might be to think, “Oh, no, here he goes again.” In this case, though, a walk wasn’t a terrible end result. In fact, it potentially sets up a double play with Jonny Gomes (.167 vs. RHP, entering Saturday) at the plate.
“[Napoli] is a good curveball hitter,” Axford said. “So, I was trying to throw a slider to start him off and get him to roll over, keep the ball on the infield rather than something in the air. When I fell behind, it was a matter of nibbling at that point, making sure I wasn’t going to give him something too good. Since I didn’t have the slider at that point, it was a matter of trying to keep things away from him a little bit.
“That 3-2 pitch, I was going to make sure it was off the plate. If he was going to swing, he was going to swing. If not, at least we have a double play in order.”
Axford got his grounder, but it wasn’t hit hard enough to Cabrera to make for a tailor-made twin killing. The shortstop got the out at first, but Gomes narrowly beat the throw to first, allowing Dustin Pedroia to score from third base.
No harm done in the end. Axford, Kyle Crockett, Shaw and Cody Allen pieced together the final 3.2 innings to pave the way to the win for the Tribe.
HOME: Helping Cleveland’s cause was a decision made by Pedroia in the seventh inning. With runners on the corners and no outs, Kipnis chopped a pitch to Boston’s second baseman. It looked like a sure double play, but that would have allowed the Indians to pull the game into a 2-2 tie. Pedroia saw an opening to get Cabrera at home plate, so he went for it.
“I think, like everyone else, we thought he was going for the double play,” Kipnis said. “But, Pedey is about as heads-up a defender as they come. He saw that he had a chance to get him at home.”
Pierzynski was not able to corral the throw and the catcher was charged with an error on the play. When Pierzynski turned to tag Cabrera, the ball skipped away in front of the plate. It looked like Cleveland’s shortstop would have been out with a clean grab and tag.
“If he caught the ball and held on to it,” Kipnis said, “he might’ve got him.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t fault Pedroia for the game-tying run.
“I can see where it’s a questionable play in a first-and-third situation,” Farrell said, “but Pedey feels like he’s got a chance to cut the runner down at home. The throw was on the backhand side to A.J. just enough that he can’t field it cleanly. But, you can’t second guess that. That’s a good, aggressive defensive play.”
Indians (34-35) at Red Sox (31-37)
at 1:35 p.m. ET Sunday at Fenway Park