Covering the Bases: Game 2

Mike NapoliPostgame quotes and notes on Cleveland’s 7-6 victory over Boston on Wednesday night.

FIRST: If this is what the four-five combination of Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana looks like this season, I think Indians fans will start feeling better about this Tribe lineup.

“Those are two big bats,” said rookie Tyler Naquin.

(More on him in a bit)

In Wednesday’s win, Santana capped off a four-run outburst with a towering blast to the bullpens in center field. He even did a little celebratory dance in the dugout with Jason Kipnis. Santana later slashed a pitch to left-center, and turned it into a hustle double. He added his obligatory walk in the seventh.

As for Napoli, he also drew a walk — ahead of Santana’s towering blast in the first. Following a couple groundouts, which came while Cleveland’s pitching was trying to stave off a Boston rally with little luck, Napoli came through again. In the seventh, with the game caught in a 6-6 deadlock, he put a pitch in the bleachers for a go-ahead, solo homer.

“We’re all going to have to work together as a group,” Napoli said. “It can’t be just me and him. If we do the little things as a group, we’re going to be able to scrap away runs for our great pitching staff.”

Those little things were on display, as they were within the Indians’ lone inning of scoring on Tuesday. Jose Ramirez scored from first on a Jason Kipnis double in the first inning. Santana turned a sure single into that bang-bang double. Yan Gomes went first to third on a Marlon Byrd single in the sixth, setting up a sac fly by Juan Uribe. Rajai Davis stole a base (and nearly two, had it not been for a replay misstep by manager Terry Francona).

Santana said hustling and playing hard has to be the team’s blueprint.

“If you don’t play hard, my teammates will motivate me to play hard every day,” he said. “I’m worrying about winning. If you hustle, and all the players hustle, we’ll be fine.”

SECOND: Naquin got his first start in the Majors on Wednesday and collected the first hit of his career. It was a memorable one, too. Facing Red Sox righty Clay Buchholz, Naquin saw nine pitches in his first at-bat, fouling off four in the battle before yanking a pitch through the hole for a single to right field.

“I’m sure that he probably barely touched the ground going to first,” Francona said. “Good for him. I’m sure that was very exciting for him.”

Consider that confirmed.

“Honestly, I didn’t even really feel myself touch first base,” Naquin said with a smile. “It’s just a great feeling, a very exciting moment for myself and my family.”

Naquin said Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts — “All classy dudes,” per the outfielder — congratulated him after he reached base. As for the baseball?

“I’m not real sure,” Naquin said. “But it’s definitely going to go home back to Texas.”

THIRD: Lost in the wake of this win was a subpar outing by right-hander Carlos Carrasco. It wasn’t as cold as Tuesday, but there were still unpredictable winds and some light rain toying with the players on Wednesday. Carrasco allowed four runs on seven hits in five-plus innings. He struck out five and walked one.

Carrasco also gave up three home runs, including back-to-back shots to David Ortiz and Ramirez in the sixth inning. Apparently, Big Papi’s farewell tour includes one homer per game for the fans.

“They hit some balls pretty hard,” Francona said. “And the ballpark, uncharacteristic for this time of year, was playing pretty small tonight. Balls were flying all over the place. They squared up a lot of balls. We wanted him to get through two hitters in the sixth and he gave up two home runs. So, so much for that.”

HOME: You have to give it to the Tribe tonight. This one felt like one of those games the team would lose a year ago. After taking an early lead, mistakes in the field and some missteps on the mound helped Boston run to a 6-5 lead by the sixth inning. Obviously, I’m generalizing here, but it felt like there were times last year where a mid-game collapse like that would sink Cleveland last year. That made tonight’s win an encouraging one.

There were a few rough moments along the way, though.

After the back-to-back homers in the sixth, Chris Young sent a flyball to left-center field. Left fielder Jose Ramirez and Naquin — with 16 combined innings in the Majors before today (thanks, Zack Meisel, for the quick research) — sprinted toward each other and then… stopped. The baseball plopped in and Young got a “double.”

What looked like miscommunication, though, was more about the elements.

“It was rainy and windy at that moment,” Naquin said. “I even asked Jose. He said, ‘Me no see.’ I said, ‘Me neither, bud.’ We saw it probably four feet above our heads. By that time, it was too late.”

Ross Detwiler followed with two walks and allowed a sac fly to Jackie Bradley. That set up a go-ahead groundout off the bat of Mookie Betts. Third baseman Juan Uribe gloved the chopper, but rather than look Brock Holt back to third, Uribe threw across the diamond for the out at first. Holt, without being challenged, scored easily to put Boston ahead.

“It looked like he kind of realized that he needed to look somebody back,” Francona said, “but he actually looked the other way. Yeah, that was a big play.”

Another mistake came in the eighth, when it looked like Davis and Francisco Lindor pulled off a double steal. Davis made a head-first slide into third and appeared to touch the base before being tagged. Francona moved to the top step, but did not challenge the play. Really, there was no reason not to challenge it, but the manager said — unlike the fly ball — this one was miscommunication.

“That was on me,” Francona said. “I misheard and by the time I realized, it was too late. That’s on me, that’s a bad mistake.”

EXTRAS: We can’t close this one out without mentioning the adventurous final play of the game. With Cleveland up by one and two outs in the books, it was closer Cody Allen against Big Papi. It was a grab-your-popcorn moment for fans.

“I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all,” Napoli said with a smirk. “He’s a great hitter and he can pop it out of the park at any time. And it looks like he’s got some swag going right now and feels good.”

Ortiz took a mighty swing and sent the baseball through the swirling winds to deep left field. Ramirez zigged and zagged and finally stabbed at the line drive at the wall, making a circus catch for the game’s final out. Ramirez pumped his arms in the air after the grab, which sealed the win and a save for Allen.

“Everybody was a little scared,” Santana said. “He did a good job.”

Francona was asked if his heart skipped a beat.

“It skipped a beat a few times tonight,” he said. “It might have even stopped.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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