Covering the Bases: Game 17
Some notes and quotes from Monday’s 4-3 loss to the Twins.
FIRST: Anything and everything seemingly went wrong for the Indians in the fifth inning of Monday’s meltdown in Minnesota. A web gem. A booted ball. A pick-off play that went the wrong way. A balk. A wild pitch. Missed chances on foul popups. And runs, three of them, for the Twins.
“So many things happened that inning,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
All night, it felt like Danny Salazar was operating under a bend-don’t-break approach. But, when a pitcher is struggling to find the strike zone as badly as Salazar was on Monday, it usually catches up with him. It did against the Twins, but there were so many other factors that did the Tribe in at Target Field.
The inning actually opened with a highlight-reel play by — and this will shock you — shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Eduardo Escobar chopped a pitch up the middle, where Salazar stabbed at the ball and tipped it with his glove. That forced Lindor to alter his route behind the mound. The shortstop gloved the grounder, but the baseball did all it could to spin away from his fingers. Once he got a grip on the elusive ball, Lindor fired it to first for the out.
Next, Salazar induced a flyout from Kurt Suzuki. Cleveland had a 2-0 lead and, despite all of the starter’s command woes, he was about to escape another inning unscathed. Except, that’s not what happened. Instead, a rare defensive mistake by Lindor began a brutal chain reaction.
Danny Santana sent a pitch from Salazar up the middle, where the shortstop moved to his left and got the glove on the ball. Unfortunately, the baseball skipped off the heel and fell to the dirt. Lindor retrieved it from the ground, but he had no shot at throwing Santana out at first base.
That was the first domino.
With Eduardo Nunez batting, Salazar attempted a pick-off to first base, where Mike Napoli appeared to apply the tag on the Twins runner’s right arm before his hand touched the base. First-base umpire Doug Eddings saw things differently, calling Santana safe. Francona challenged the ruling, which was upheld after a replay review.
That surprised the Indians manager.
“Very much so,” Francona said.
Undeterred, Salazar tried another pick-off play after the game resumed. This time, home-plate ump Jeff Nelson said the pitcher’s movement was illegal. He declared it a balk and Santana jogged up to second base. On the replay, Salazar was leaning over and getting the sign from catcher Yan Gomes, when the pitcher lifted his back foot, spun and threw to first base.
Francona didn’t like the call.
“I don’t agree,” said the manager. “I have a feeling when he goes and looks at it, he’ll say he probably didn’t get it right.”
Then came the first of two tormenting foul balls. Nunez flared a pitch down the right-field line, where outfielder Marlon Byrd tracked it down and reached out to make a catch. The ball dropped just beyond his reach as Byrd closed in on the side wall.
Nunez then sent another foul ball to the right, where it drifted high and into the first row of the stands on the first-base side. Napoli ran to the wall and watched the baseball drop into a group of fans, who then scattered to chase down the souvenir. Another missed chance at an out.
Nunez walked, bringing Brian Dozier to the plate. On a 2-1 pitch, Salazar sent a ball tumbling into the dirt. Gomes could not corral the errant offering and it rolled around at his feet as he bolted up in search of the baseball. By the time the catcher realized where the ball was, Santana and Nunez had sprinted up to third and second, respectively.
And this is where Salazar’s command issues finally bit him. He was now in a 3-1 count to Dozier, who ripped the next pitch down the left-field line for a two-run double. Following that game-tying hit, Miguel Sano came through with a go-ahead single off Jeff Manship later in the inning.
“Every time you get behind in the count, you have to get in the strike zone,” Salazar said. “[Dozier] was waiting for something there in the strike zone. … We could’ve won that game. But, I think that’s on me. I got in trouble and we lost.”
SECOND: If you had any doubts before about Lindor’s potential as a team leader, let’s erase them here and now.
During this game, Lindor made a handful of incredible plays. Beyond the one detailed above, he also went deep into the hold twice, gloving sharp grounders and pulling off leaping, across-body throws with precision for outs. They were the kind of plays Lindor is making seem routine for him.
And, yet, even with all the plays he made on Monday night, Lindor was caught up in the grounder he did not catch cleanly in the fifth. Considering that miscue occurred with two outs, the shortstop said the defeat was his and his alone (which we all know was not the case).
Lindor called the ball in the fifth “a routine play” that all shortstops can make.
“I made all those plays and they helped the team,” Lindor said. “But, I helped them win today. I helped them win. I didn’t help my team win and it’s tough. Whenever something like that happens, it’s tough. I think Salazar was pitching good and I messed it up for him. I messed it up for him and I own up to it.”
You have to respect the accountability and maturity from the kid.
THIRD: Salazar was bringing the heat on Monday, but he was in hit-the-bull mode for the first few innings. His two innings consisted of 40 pitches, including 21 balls. Through four innings, he had 70 pitches (32 balls). The biggest issue was his fastball command, especially with the two-seamer. Salazar eventually just leaned on his four-seamer for 61 pitches (60.4 percent), which was more than 10-percent greater than his last outing.
“I could’ve done a better job today,” said Salazar, who lasted 4.2 innings. “I was throwing too many balls and too many times behind in the count. That was the problem today.”
Francona was not about to argue.
“He barely got to where he was throwing more strikes than balls,” Francona said. “It took him until about the fourth inning. That’s just a hard way to have sustained success, where you can go deep into a game. Because, with the stuff he has, he should get deeper.”
HOME: Welcome back, Michael Brantley. The script was set up for a storybook return for Dr. Smooth, but the baseball gods didn’t feel like playing along this time. After he launched a homer and threw a guy out at the plate in his first spring game, you just assumed he’d deliver a clutch hit after entering as a pinch-hitter on Monday.
The game was knotted, 3-3, in the eighth inning, thanks to a towering solo home run from Gomes. A couple hits later, the Indians had runners on the corners with two outs. Francona turned to Brantley as a pinch hitter. The left fielder put his slick swing on display with an opposite-field line drive, but Oswaldo Arcia squeezed his glove around the ball for the final out of the inning. Then, Arcia went and hit a walk-off home run in the ninth.