Covering the Bases: Game 39

LindorSliderPicSome notes and quotes from Friday’s 4-2 win over the Red Sox.

FIRST: Francisco Lindor brought his traveling magic show to Fenway Park on Friday night.

In the first inning, Red Sox fans got to see him not only make a barehanded grab-and-throw for an out, but also pluck a would-be bloop single out of thin air for a long running catch. They saw Lindor draw two walks and collect two singles. They watched as he stole second base and skipped to third on the play due to a throwing error by the catcher.

And, they saw this…

LindorSlider

Yes, Lindor pulled off the ol’ swim-move slide once again. But, rather than stick to doing that move at second base, the shortstop tried it out at the plate. He slid, rolled, maneuvered and then jumped and yelled in celebration.

We first saw this particular play from Lindor on Sept. 1 in Toronto last season:

LindorTORslide

Lindor has done it a handful of times since. He actually tried the same move in the third inning on Wednesday in Cincinnati. On a single to center, the shortstop tried for a double, did the swim-move slide at second base and looked safe on the replays. He was called out on that one, though, and Lindor said he thinks he did pop off the bag for a split second during the tag.

On Friday night, the play came about in the third inning, when Lindor was on third and Jose Ramirez was at the plate. Ramirez skied a pitch to center, where Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. made the catch. He came up firing and Lindor tagged and sprinted for home.

Catcher Christian Vazquez received the ball on a one-hopper from Bradley, who uncorked an incredibly strong and accurate throw. Vazquez was set up in foul ground, though, so Lindor moved to the inside of the plate and decided to go in head first. Sliding that way into home isn’t typically advised, but Lindor didn’t feel like he’d be in harm’s way.

“I didn’t think he was going to get to me,” Lindor said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that close. I knew the tag was going to be there, but I didn’t know his body was going to get there. … I saw the video and I’m glad I took my hand out of there.”

Indians manager Terry Francona was fine with Lindor’s approach, too.

“If he was diving into the catcher, that’s one thing,” said the manager. “But, he sees where the catcher is. It’s really like going into second. It’s not like there’s going to be contact.”

And, there wasn’t. Lindor rolled onto his side, pulled his right arm away from the tag and touched the plate with his left hand as he slid through.

“I was very, very pumped, as you saw,” Lindor said. “As soon as I hit the ground, all I thought was try to get that right hand up. I screamed, ‘Safe!’ And, as soon as I saw [the umpire] moving his hands and saying safe, I just went crazy.”

Lindor has been on a tear of late for the Tribe, too.

Since going 0-for-7 against Houston on May 11, Lindor has turned in a .486/.538/.657 slash line in eight games for Cleveland. In that time period, he has 17 hits, including one homer and three doubles. He has six RBIs, eight runs, four walks and three steals. Lindor has a multi-hit game in seven of those eight games, including the past five in a row.

“I’m just loading early and letting my eyes do the work,” Lindor said. “I let my eyes tell me what I want to do, and then let the hands release and whatever happens after that, it happens. Just load early, see the ball, let it travel and just release the barrel.”

Added Francona: “Since last June, he’s been pretty good. Sometimes, players kind of get through a period where maybe they’re getting a little tired and then get their second wind. I think the timing is really good. He looks like he’s got another step back where he’s got some life in his legs, which is good.”

SECOND: Corey Kluber was solid in this one for the Tribe, but the encouraging element to the outing was the fact that he locked in once he got a lead.

Kluber allowed one run in the first and then gave up a leadoff homer to Bradley in the second, spotting Boston a quick 2-0 lead. Cleveland’s offense then responded with a four-run showing in the third and the Indians starter made the lead stick. After Bradley’s blast, Boston went just 2-for-20 with 10 outs via grounders and six strikeouts.

“When we scored,” Francona said, “he went out there and really started getting after it. He used his changeup. He pitched in. That was good to see. That’s what your ace is supposed to do, but it’s easier said than done. That’s a heck of a lineup and he really did a good job.”

One at-bat in particular stood out to me in this one.

In the fifth inning, the Red Sox had two outs, a runner on second and David Ortiz at the plate. Kluber walked Big Papi in their first meeting and struck him out in the next confrontation.

For this third matchup, Kluber said: “The game plan for that at-bat was really to kind of make him go out of the zone, if we were going to get him to swing. Otherwise, be just patient and, if he took his base, we’ll take our chances with the next guy.”

Kluber’s first pitch was a 92-mph cutter low and in the dirt for a ball.

Papi1

For the 1-0 offering, Kluber went to his sinker. Papi fouled off the 94-mph away pitch.

Papi2

Now 1-1, Kluber returned to the cutter (90 mph this time) middle-in. Ortiz pulled it foul.

Papi3

Said Kluber: “Once you get to two strikes, we got him with a pitch in the pitch before that [fourth pitch], and we were just trying to expand in again.”

Catcher Yan Gomes moved into a higher crouch and positioned his glove well above the strike zone and inside. Kluber sent a 94-mph fastball high and tight with precision. Ortiz swung through the pitch for an inning-ending strikeout.

Papi4

“On the 1-1 pitch, he threw a good fastball in that David pulled foul,” Francona said. “And I just think making him aware that you will come in there gives you a better chance. I’m not saying that you’re going to get him out, but it gives you a better chance.

“And then he elevated by design. I just thought he made some really good pitches to some really good hitters.”

THIRD: It’s been well-documented that Jason Kipnis plays well in his hometown of Chicago, but the second baseman has also done exceptionally well in his career at Fenway Park.

In Friday’s win, Kipnis belted a three-run homer in the third inning to put the Indians ahead for good, and ended the day 2-for-5. His .329 average at Fenway is his second-best mark among American League stadiums. His .603 slugging percentage here is his best showing in AL parks. With Friday’s effort, his Fenway OPS is up to .983, too.

More important is the fact that Kipnis has — to this point — been more consistent than streaky for the Tribe. He hit .274 (.760 OPS) in April and is now batting .297 (.827 OPS) in May. He also has six homers after having nine in all of last season.

“I might beat nine,” Kipnis quipped. “I put in the work in the offseason and got stronger. I’ve got my swing going right now. I’m more consistent. I don’t think you’re seeing those cold spells and hot streaks that I had in the past, where April would be .180 and May would be .420. Hopefully, lets hover around .300 the whole year.

“I’ve got a good approach. Good things are happening right now. I’m going to try not to change too much.”

HOME: An odd situation came up in the fourth inning on Friday night. Boston righty Clay Buchholz sent a 1-2 changeup inside to Rajai Davis, whose right fingers were hit by the pitch as he tried to check his swing. Davis went to take his base, but was ruled out via strikeout by the umpires.

The reasoning? The umpires deemed that Davis swung, so it’s a strike, even though he was hit by the pitch.

“I committed to swing. Therefore, it was a strikeout,” Davis said. “I thought I checked it up. I think it’s a call that can go either way. It was a tough break. Fortunately for me, my finger is fine.”

Before the strikeout call, Francona met with all four umpires for a lengthy on-field discussion. The manager said he was talking to crew-chief Jim Joyce about what, if anything, could be challenged in such a scenario.

“Jimmy Joyce was explaining to me the whole thing,” Francona said, “and I didn’t have a problem with his explanation at all, actually. I was just trying to ask him, and ask them, what my options were if the ball had hit the bat. That’s where we just had a little bit of confusion.

“I don’t think the ball did anyway, but there was just some confusion in either the way I was understanding it, or the way they were explaining it. But I had no issue with Jimmy Joyce, the way he explained it.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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