Covering the Bases: Game 66
FIRST: This is the benefit of playing at home.
You saw what happened in Kansas City, where Cleveland dropped a pair of close games to open what wound up being a three-game sweep. You watched Bryan Shaw blow a lead late and that was that. The Indians did not come back and did not have the benefit of last at-bat.
Back in the own backyard, though, the Indians capitalized on Friday night in front of a nice crowd.
“We play better here,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “It’s nice to play in front of your home crowd. It’s nice to get back to a park you’re familiar with. It was a great crowd tonight, a full one. We appreciated that. It’s always nice to have the last say in the game.”
After closer Cody Allen blew a save in the ninth — allowing one run to pull the game into a 2-2 tie — Carlos Santana gave the Tribe a win with a walk-off homer to lead off the bottom of the inning. Santana cruised around first base with an arm raised skyward, and his teammates celebrated with a water shower at the plate.
“He tried to save the game but it happened,” Santana said. “But, he never put his head down. We tried to fight, especially being at home and we played very good.”
Francona said the sting of the ninth inning only lasted a moment.
“When you’re playing at home,” Francona said, “even though it’s a kick in the stomach for a minute, you’re still hitting last. You see what happens. You make a mistake on the road and you can lose. Fortunately, they did, because they had Santana down 0-2. Man, he took a nice swing.”
SECOND: The decisive at-bat pitted White Sox right-hander Nate Jones against Santana.
Hitting from the left side, Santana slipped into an 0-2 count after Jones started him off with a pair of sliders low and away (both in 87-88 mph range). Jones considered going with a fastball for the third pitch, but opted instead to stick with what was working.
“That was the first call,” said of considering a heater. “But, I was trying to backfoot a slider. Just left it over the middle.”
Santana admitted that he was actually looking for the fastball.
“I tried to find the fastball,” Santana said. “But, he threw a slider again and I tried to hit it down the middle with good contact. He threw a slider and I got a home run.”
THIRD: One inning earlier, the Indians took advantage of Chicago’s defensive alignment to generate the rally that produced the temporarily, 2-1, lead.
First, utility man Michael Martinez pushed a pitch from lefty Jose Quintana through the hole on the right side of the infield for a leadoff single. That hit upped Martinez’s average to .444 (8-for-18) in his past seven games, and gave him a .333 average in 21 games.
“They were overplaying him when he was hitting,” Francona said. “And you could see him just trying to shoot the ball through the hole, and that’s exactly what he did. He’s been really good for us.”
Before the Indians signed Martinez, he posted a 32 OPS+ in 440 Major League plate appearances across the 2011-14 seasons. That was the lowest OPS+ in baseball among players with at least 400 PAs in that time period. Since joining Cleveland? Martinez has hit .307 (23-for-75).
“I’ll tell you right now: He’s probably everybody’s favorite player on the team,” Kipnis said. “The guy is awesome. He’s a good dude that you like rooting for. He’s a baseball player. He wasn’t your prospect probably when he was coming up. He’s not a big kid, but the guy is a good baseball player and does everything well.”
Two batters later, Kipnis shot a pitch from Quintana into the right-center field gap. Since center fielder J.B. Shuck was shaded toward left field, the ball was able to skip by to the warning track for a double. Martinez was able to score from first as a result.
“They overplay him so much to the left side,” Francona said. “It allowed Michael, whose done some really good things for us, to score all the way from first.”
Here is a look at Kipnis’ spray chart for the season. He has noticed outfielders shading him to the opposite-field, and he’s been hoping to exploit it. Kipnis said he even talked about it lately with hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo.
“Me and VanBo have been joking about that,” Kipnis said. “When are we going to finally burn one of those center fielders playing me to left-center? Couldn’t have picked a better time. I’m happy about this one.”
HOME: Two things shouldn’t go unnoticed in this one: Trevor Bauer’s start and Rajai Davis’ key stolen base.
As for Bauer, he gave the Indians seven strong innings and was only charged with one run. He struck out nine and walked three. He’s run into some bad luck lately, and that continued in this one. In the third, right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall slipped while charging a low liner from Adam Eaton, opening the door for a triple and, eventually, a run.
“It’s tough, because it cost you a run,” Francona said. “But there’s nothing you can do about that.”
Over his past four starts, Bauer has a 2.12 ERA and a .204 opponents’ average, with 28 strikeouts and eight walks in 29 2/3 innings. In that span, he has one win and three no-decisions.
“Trevor was good,” Francona said. “He was really effective. His stuff wasn’t dropping off. Really good changeup. His pitches were moving. I thought he pitched really well.”
The steal from Davis came in the first inning.
After opening with a base hit off Quintana, Davis swiped second on a slide step from the left-handed starter. It was not only the first steal of the year off Quintana, but it marked Davis’ 18th theft, putting him in a tie with Jose Altuve for the American League lead. The stolen base also set up an RBI single by Francisco Lindor.
“It’s been impressive,” Francona said, “because Rajai’s stolen bases seem like a lot of them have come when they’re trying to defend it. And he still has the ability to go. It’s been something that we had hoped for when we signed him, but it may be better than we expected, just because of the timing of them. They’re trying to defend it and he’s still going.”
Stay tuned for more…