Covering the Bases: Game 98
Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 7-6 win over the Nationals
FIRST: There was some angst around the Tribe Twittersphere when the lineup was posted prior to Tuesday’s game. With lefty Gio Gonzalez on the hill for Washington, Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall were on the bench for the Indians.
Anyone who has followed manager Terry Francona in his time in Cleveland should know how much he values being able to match up, especially in later innings. Against the Nationals, there could be chances for Naquin or Chisenhall to come off the bench in a key situation.
“Obviously, Tito likes to use the bench,” Indians backup catcher Chris Gimenez said. “And the way that our roster is kind of constructed, that’s going to happen. We’ve got some flexibility where we’ve got some guys that he can do some match-ups and stuff with. … You just never know. You can’t just sit on the bench and take the day off if you’re not in the lineup, because you never know when you might be in there.”
Chisenhall’s opportunity arrived in the seventh inning, when he pinch-hit for Roberto Perez against righty Blake Treinen. Chisenhall answered the call with a slashed grounder to the left side for a single, scoring Abraham Almonte to cut the Nationals’ lead to 5-3.
Naquin got his chance in the ninth, when Washington handed the ball to closer Jonathan Papelbon with a 6-4 lead. With Jose Ramirez on first base, Naquin sliced a pitch into the left-center gap, where it skipped to the wall for a double. Ramirez — sans helmet once he sprinted around third — scored to pull the Indians within one run.
“That obviously really changed the game,” Francona said of Naquin’s hit. “We’re trying to extend the inning any way we can, maybe get the tying run to second or something. It looked like he hit a split and he stayed on it. That really changed everything.”
Next up was Gimenez, who took over behind the plate after Perez was lifted. Gimenez pushed a pitch up the first-base line for what he intended to be a sacrifice bunt. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman charged and gloved it, but then fired wildly beyond first base. Naquin scored to pull the game into a 6-6 deadlock.
“He tried to throw me a fastball up and away, hoping I’d kind of pop it up,” Gimenez said. “I just thought it wasn’t high enough that I couldn’t go get it. Just nice and easy, bunt it to first base. It turns out that [Zimmerman’s] had some minor issues I think in the past with making a throw and stuff like that. Thankfully, for us today, it worked out.”
Later in the inning, the stage was set for Francisco Lindor, who stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. The Indians shortstop sent a pitch through the hole on the right side, scoring Gimenez on a walkoff single. After the game, Lindor didn’t hog the spotlight, either. He quickly pointed to all the contributions that led to his moment.
“We trust in ourselves. We trust in the team have,” Lindor said. “Gimenez wasn’t starting today. Huge at-bat. Naquin wasn’t starting today. Huge at-bat. Chisenhall wasn’t starting today. Huge at-bat. Guys aren’t playing, but they were in the game. They helped us.”
SECOND: Before Lindor’s heroics, Rajai Davis delivered a critical hit to set things up for the game’s decisive blow.
Gimenez was on second and Chisenhall, following an intentional walk, was on first base with one out in the final inning. On the first pitch from Oliver Perez, Davis saw Zimmerman and third baseman Anthony Rendon crashing hard as he squared around to bunt.
“I was taught to, when that happens, you slash,” Davis said. “You try to keep it in the middle of the field. So, in the ninth, that was my first opportunity to actually do that in a game.”
Davis held firm to the bat and pushed the pitch hard and into the air. As Rendon ran in aggressively, the baseball popped up and over his head, dropping into the infield grass to the left side of the mound. With shortstop Trea Turner sprinting to cover this, the baseball was in no-man’s land.
“Huge credit to Raj,” Gimenez said. “That was pretty much the play of the game right there. A lot of people don’t think he did that on purpose, but he absolutely did that on purpose.”
Even Francona wasn’t sure that was an intentional technique by Davis.
“I’d like to say yeah. I’m going to doubt it,” Francona said. “They were so aggressive on that play that, again, I don’t know if he tried that or not. They had no play, because they were so aggressive. That’s one where, being that aggressive, you’d almost like him to pull back and hit because there’s no way we can get ‘G’ to third on that.
“They were so aggressive. But, when you’re that aggressive, put the ball in play, sometimes some good things can happen.”
Davis said he didn’t have that type of play in mind when he walked to the plate. He knew he was going to bunt, but the slash bunt — or “slug bunt” as he jokingly called it — was not on his mind.
“That’s just something you instinctively know from through the years. You either do it or you don’t. You have that knowledge or you don’t have it. You’re either brave enough to do it or you’re not. I was fortunately enough to have it work out for us.”
THIRD: This was a good win for the Indians in the sense that it was really close to being an ugly loss.
To begin with, Danny Salazar lasted only four innings and one batter for Cleveland. The right-hander just didn’t look like himself in the outing. That was especially true in the fourth, when Rendon tattooed an elevated split-change on an 0-2 count. With Salazar at 85 pitches, and the bullpen rested, Francona pulled the plug.
“Everything was hard for him tonight,” Francona said. “It just didn’t look like he was in sync with anything. … I just thought, you know what? We’re going to obviously lean on him the last two months. Sometimes, rather than make him slug his way through another inning, let’s go ahead and get him out and see if we can make it work.”
Defensively, Cleveland didn’t do itself many favors, either. OK, so there was this Lindor gem…
There were also three errors. Third baseman Juan Uribe made a pair of miscues that helped Washington to runs. Uribe botched a grounder from Daniel Murphy in the first, and the Nationals went on to score two runs. In the ninth, Uribe and Mike Napoli each made an error, helping Washington tack on an insurance run.
With the win, Cleveland avoided the storyline revolving around all the mistakes.
“That was, I thought, uncharacteristic of us a little bit,” Francona said. “They were all tough [plays].”
HOME: For the past week, the Indians have talked a lot about how much they were looking forward to getting home. Cleveland spent the bulk of June and July on the road, and just came off a grueling 10-day swing through Minneapolis, Kansas City and Baltimore. By the end of that trip, the team looked drained.
“There’s nothing better than being home,” Gimenez said. “We kind of had a rough month of being on some 10-day road trips. A West coast swing. Stuff like that. It grinds on you. It absolutely grinds on you. There’s nothing better than being home, where everything is comfortable.”
And, of course, home is where the last at-bat is. Tuesday’s game was the perfect example.
“I know this going to be a shocking announcement: That’s not how we drew it up,” Francona said. “There were so many things that happened in that game that were kind of peculiar that, again, hitting last sure helps.”
Including Tuesday’s game, Cleveland is in the midst of a stretch of 20 home games in a 25-game span. It’s 30 out of 42 at home, stretching into early September. As of right now, Cleveland is 27-16 at home (15-4 in its last 19) with five walkoff wins.
“Huge. It’s huge,” Lindor said of being back in Cleveland. “We’ve been on the road for a while. It’s nice to be home with our families, get that little off-day and be in this clubhouse. It changes everything a little bit. The fans today, they were a little quiet at first, but it got loud as the game went on. That’s what we play for. For them.”
Stay tuned for more…