The best and bizarre from the Indians’ 2014 campaign
The Indians didn’t make the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean it was a season devoid of drama or fun moments. In fact, this was one of the more bizarre and entertaining seasons I’ve covered. There were elite individual performances, records broken and plenty of oddities experienced. Let’s take a tour of the Tribe’s memorable 2014 season. There are links to videos and stories throughout the events listed below. Enjoy.
Was there any doubt? The Klubot ended with 18 wins, a 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts. His 7.3 WAR (via Fangraphs.com) was the highest by a Tribe starter since 1972 (Gaylord Perry). Kluber’s 269 strikeouts were the most in a season by an Indians starter not named Bob Feller or Sam McDowell. Led by “Klubes” (as manager Terry Francona often calls him), the Indians set the Major League record for strikeouts by a team (1,450) in one season. The right-hander was a machine and now he’s a Cy Young candidate. CLICK HERE for a feature I wrote in early August on Kluber’s ascension to the top of Cleveland’s rotation.
Another no-contest in terms of Tribe picks. In fact, if it weren’t for some guy named Mike Trout, we might be sitting here arguing for Brantley as the American League’s MVP. He was named to his first All-Star team this season and then became the first Indians batter in history to turn in a 20-homer, 20-steal, 40-double, 200-hit campaign. His 59 multi-hit games were the most by a Cleveland hitter since 1999 (Omar Vizquel) and he joined Victor Martinez as the only batters in baseball this year with fewer than 60 strikeouts and more than 50 walks. Brantley reaching 200 hits in his final game of the season was one of the highlights of Cleveland’s season.
Allen became the primary ninth-inning man by mid-May and was the clear-cut closer by the season’s second half. The hard-throwing righty was a force in the final frame and turned in a dominant campaign for Cleveland. An Indians pitcher has had at least 20 saves 24 times. Among those instances, Allen (24 saves) turned in the second-highest strikeout total (91) and the fourth-lowest ERA (2.07). His 76 appearances were the most among any Tribe pitchers with at least 20 saves in one year.
I’ll go with co-winners for this category. The Bauer backers will cite the fact that he logged 153 innings, shoring up the middle of the rotation The House homers will note his consistency and improvement down the stretch (2.53 ERA in the second half), giving Cleveland a solid fifth starter. As a duo, Bauer and House gave Cleveland only its fifth pair of rookies with at least 100 innings apiece in a season during the Expansion Era (since 1961). With apologies to Jose Ramirez and Kyle Crockett, this honor goes to two members of the stellar five-man staff that the Tribe utilized down the stretch.
On June 9, Lonnie Chisenhall became Lonnie Baseball. In not only one of the greatest games in Indians history, but one of the greatest individual shows in baseball history, Chisenhall delivered three home runs, five hits and nine RBIs in a romp over the Rangers. He became the fourth hitter in MLB history to have at least that many homers, hits and RBIs in one game, joining Boston’s Fred Lynn (June 18, 1975), Brooklyn’s Gil Hodges (Aug. 31, 1950) and Cincinnati’s Walker Cooper (July 6, 1949). Chisenhall was the only player in that group to do so in only five plate appearances.
As overpowering as Kluber was all season long (he was fifth in the Majors with an average game score of 62.6), it was Tomlin who turned in the greatest single pitching performance of the year for Cleveland. On June 28 in Seattle, the righty struck out 11, walked none and spun a one-hit shutout. For perspective, Tomlin’s 96 game score was the same as the rating for Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter. Tomlin joined Len Barker as the only Tribe pitchers int he past 100 seasons to have a shutout with at least 11 strikeouts, no walks and no more than one hit allowed. Barker did so in his perfect game in 1981.
If we were going with an in-season comeback player, I’d probably go with a different Carlos. Santana hit .159 (.628 OPS) through the first two months and then hit .266 (.872) over the final four, finishing with a team-high 27 homers and Major League-leading 113 walks. As for Carrasco, he was winless by the end of April, making him 0-12 with an 8.09 ERA in 17 starts across the 2011-14 seasons. He was banished to the bullpen and it seemed unlikely he’d return as a starter. That changed in August, when Cleveland gave him another chance. Carrasco seized his moment, spinning a 1.30 ERA with 78 strikeouts against 11 walks in 69 innings over his final 10 starts of the season.
Aviles has served mainly as a utility infielder throughout his career, but the Indians used him plenty in the outfield this season. On July 13, Aviles did his best Yoenis Cespedes impression, making an incredible throw from the side wall in foul ground down the left-field line to first base, doubling up a baserunner for a jaw-dropping double play. CLICK HERE to watch the gun show.
I hate to do this to you, Ray, but a season recap just wouldn’t be complete without the Royal Spike. With one out in the eighth inning of a scoreless game in Kansas City, Mike Moustakas sent a ball tailing down the left-field line. Raburn made a sliding catch attempt, missed and hustled after the baseball. When he retrived it, he accidentally spiked it to the ground, giving Moustakes a four-base double. Kluber’s expression as he watched from behind home plate said it all.
(To be fair, I present to you the runner-up for the defensive play of the year. Check out this spectacular diving catch that Raburn made in late August: CLECK HERE)
Yes, I’m making up categories now. With apologies to Roberto Perez’s first career home run (a double overturned by replay), Cleveland’s best replay moment took place in Chavez Ravine on July 1. L.A.’s Adrian Gonzalez flared a pitch from Crockett to left, where Brantley made the catch and threw out Dee Gordon at the plate. Yasiel Puig tried to move from first to second on the play, but Gomes fired a throw to Jason Kipnis for the third out. The plays at the plate and at second were each reviewed, both results in outs and Cleveland had the first triple-double replay-play in Major League history… or something like that. CLICK TO WATCH.
This is one I’ll be telling my grandkids about, if I haven’t lost my mind by that point. On Aug. 5 against the Reds, the Indians were on the wrong end of a truly bizarre turn of events. On a double to right field by Yan Gomes, David Murphy hustled from first to third base. At the exact moment that the cut-off man caught the throw from right field, Reds reliever Jumbo Diaz uncorked a wild pitch from the bullpen, sending the baseball to shallow right-center field. Murphy, confused upon seeing the second ball in the grass, drifted too far off third base and was thrown out. It was a crazy play, one that could not be examined by instant replay and one we are unlikely to see again.
Swisher’s season was a trainwreck due to knee issues that led to surgery on both joints in August. Still, the Tribe’s living, breathing energy drink delivered one of the best moments of the season. On June 19, in the bottom of the 10th inning, Swisher launched a pitch from Ernesto Frieri for a walk-off grand slam. Cleveland will be hoping for similar heroics from Swish come 2015. Swisher’s shot was one of seven walk-off home runs on the season for the Indians.
Never forget what King George did for Cleveland. On May 4, the catcher crushed two home runs, becoming the first player in Indians history to have two homers in his first two plate appearances with the franchise. By the time he left town, Kottaras had a .714 slugging percentage and 1.099 OPS in an Indians uniform (in 10 games). Oh, and Kottaras (Cowtaras?) successfully defended his cow-milking crown during Cleveland’s series in Texas in June. Multi-homer games and multi-milking championships. That’s the stuff of legends.
With the score caught in a 10-10 deadlock in the 13th inning on May 21, all Raburn had to do was stand in the batter’s box to help the Indians earn a win against the Tigers. With the bases loaded, Detroit’s Al Alburquerque balked, sending Cleveland to one of its wildest wins of the season. And, to go along with the quirkiness of baseball’s rules, Raburn does not get credited for a plate appearance for that clutch (cough) moment in extra innings.
The Indians had their Rally Chicken in 2013. One year later, the club had a Rally Squirrel pay a visit to Progressive Field. On May 21 against Kansas City, the critter caused a delay as it scurried around the infield and then headed to the outfield. It ran near the mound, avoided Swisher’s glove at first and was eventually led out through the center-field bullpen. Alas, the squirrel did not carry with it the same kind of magic as “Cody” the chicken.
During a game against the Tigers in May, Kluber was asked to do a TV interview. The pitcher obliged and his teammates plotted. He was hit with water, sunflower seeds and powder. And Kluber did not flinch. He sat there, answered questions and remained unflappable as the players tested his poise. It was just another reason why he has earned the moniker “Klubot” over the past few years.
Get Bauer in a non-game setting and the young pitcher will hold court with insightful and intelligent thoughts on pitching, analytics and approach. A small group of us chatted with the right-hander for more than a half hour before the end of the season (Q&A coming soon to the blog). But, catch him in a postgame scrum following a loss, and Bauer can be a little rough around the edges. Chalk that up to the competitive side a kid. That side of Bauer was on full display in Kansas City, where his responses to a local reporter were classic in their abrasiveness. Bauer: “We lost.” Reporter: ” Can you elaborate?” Bauer: “We lost, 4-1.” I wasn’t there, so CLICK HERE to read a great account of it by Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel.
I used to keep a log of favorite on ad off-the-record quotes, just for my own entertainment purposes. Like the time Reed Johnson told me: “The last couple weeks, I’ve been struggling for pretty much a month.” My favorite from this season came from House during the final road series in Minnesota. With the Indians on the brink of elimination, the pitcher was asked what mentality Cleveland had to take in the final games of the season. House replied: “You’ve got to hit it right in the face. Just punch it right back in the face and hopefully get a knockout.” Hey, I’m not going to argue with a man with a Fu Manchu.
Rain delays and Cleveland baseball go hand in hand. It’s not a question of if it will rain, but how often, and how many doubleheaders we reporters will have to cover. On Aug. 13, Aviles made the most of it. When the game was postponed, he picked up the phone in the dugout, called the manager’s office and asked if he could do some tarp slides. Terry Francona did not necessarily say yes, but Aviles heard all he needed to hear, hung up and put on a show with Kipnis and Chisenhall.
It got ugly in late August, when a plethora of Indians players and staff decided to grow mustaches in an effort to start a hot streak. It was unfortunate that John Axford wasn’t around to see it in person. House went the Fu Manchu route, Kipnis had whatever it was that he had, while Chisenhall, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Atchison went with classic ‘staches. Aviles went thin, Tyler Holt tried his best, and Bauer and Crockett are still waiting for the first hairs to emerge. Even PR men Bart Swain and Curtis Danburg got in on the action, and it was not a pretty sight. All of that said, it was good entertainment and a fun part of a strange season.
Could 2014 have been the golden thong’s swan song? Before the start of the regular season, Jason Giambi’s famous undergarment hung in his locker in the University of San Diego clubhouse. Big G told of its magic powers and Swisher confirmed that he once donned the thong. As of this writing, I can’t confirm whether any Indians players wore it under their uniform this season. I’ll be sure to investigate in the spring. For now, we’ll just wait to hear whether Giambi is going to hang the thong up for good.
What a year, and I’m sure I missed plenty. Feel free to share your favorite moments from 2014 in the comments.