Covering the Bases: Game 138

USP MLB: HOUSTON ASTROS AT CLEVELAND INDIANS S BBA USA OH

Some notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 6-5 win over Houston

FIRST: The Indians are in a playoff race and the spotlight is on the club right now. So, it was only a matter of time before the midges arrived to share the stage and steal away some of the attention at Progressive Field.

The swarm began to buzz around the infield and mound especially bad in the top of the fourth inning. As Carlos Carrasco delivered a curveball to Yulieski Gurriel, one flew into the pitcher’s eye, causing him to yank the pitch and prompting a brief delay of game as he was tended to on the field.

“That was weird,” Carrasco said. “I throw the curveball right there and threw it maybe 20 feet away or something like that. … This is the first time it has happened to me.”

Gurriel wound up with a single to right field and the next batter, Colby Rasmus, crushed a two-run homer over the right-field wall. Houston had a 3-2 lead, but Carrasco settled down from there and logged 7.1 solid innings. The righty didn’t use the annoying midges as an excuse.

“It doesn’t feel good,” Carrasco said. “But, I just have to come back and make my pitches. I got a groundball base hit. And the first pitch, [Rasmus] homered. It was a bit inside.”

It was reminiscent of Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees in 2007, when former New York reliever Joba Chamberlain (previously with the Tribe this year, too) was rattled by the midges while facing the Tribe. After Wednesday’s game, Carrasco even tweeted at Chamberlain: “I feel your pain brother!”

Indians manager Terry Francona laughed when asked if he remembered dealing with the bugs at old Cleveland Stadium on the lake.

“I remember them from everywhere,” Francona said. “When you’ve got skin like mine, it doesn’t matter what city you’re in.”

First baseman Mike Napoli did his part, surely killing a few of the bugs with the home run he belted into the left-field bleacher seats in the fifth inning.

“That was different,” Napoli said of the bugs. “It was a little like that last night. Tonight was a little worse. I remember seeing it in the playoff game — Joba throwing. He had 10,000 of them on his neck. I know it could be worse. That was just part of [the game]. We both had to deal with it.”

SECOND: One of the great things about baseball is the game that can develop within the game.

Consider the fifth inning on Wednesday night, when the Astros turned to lefty Kevin Chapman to face Tyler Naquin with one out and runners on first and second base. Now, this isn’t typically a point in a game where a team would pinch hit, but it made sense in this scenario given that: A) Brandon Guyer is on the bench, and B) It’s September, when rosters are expanded.

“Yeah, if you do it in July, when you have a three- or four-man bench, it’s hard to do that,” Francona said. “Now, you can. But, the guy has to be ready to hit and [Guyer is] always ready.”

Guyer, who entered the night with a 1.005 OPS against lefties this season, grabbed a bat and headed to the plate. Chapman has spent the bulk of this season at Triple-A. Between the Minors and Majors, the lefty has given up a .318 average (.911 OPS) against right-handed batters and a .225 average (.623 OPS) against lefties.

The percentages played in Guyer’s favor. He connected for a two-run double to left-center that pushed the Indians ahead, 6-3.

“He’s got over 1.000 OPS against left-handers,” Francona said. “That’s a really valuable guy to have.”

THIRD: It sure would be nice for the Indians’ offense if Napoli began to heat up for the final postseason push.

Prior to Monday, Napoli hadn’t launched a home run since Aug. 11, but his game-changing blast in the fifth marked his second in three games now. Francona has reminded plenty of times that the first baseman does seem to have a knack for hitting homers in bunches. Along those lines, consider that Napoli had seven homers in 11 games from July 30-Aug. 11, six homers in 13 games from July 4-20 and six homers in a 10-game stretch from May 27-June 5.

“Yeah, pretty much my whole career has been like that,” Napoli said. “I know that when I’m struggling, I’m going to find it. Just stay positive and do my routine in the cages and usually I get out of it.”

Added Indians closer Cody Allen: “He’s a huge reason why we’re in the position we’re in. It’s a long season. You’re going to go through droughts. I know he didn’t hit a homer for a couple weeks, but the guy was still putting up really good at-bats. He was still getting his hits. He was moving guys over. He was still driving in runs. He just wasn’t doing it with tapemeasure shots like he did tonight.

“Obviously, homers are big lifts. That two-run shot to get us ahead with one swing,
that’s a big lift for us. And that’s a deflator for the other team. But, we’ll take runs any way we can get them.”

HOME: This win, which was the seventh in nine games for Cleveland, ended with a cool moment between Allen and Astros All-Star Jose Altuve.

With two outs (both strikeouts) and a runner on first, Allen and Altuve engaged in a five-pitch battle. Within the confrontation, Altuve fouled off a pitch for a strike and then watched another. On Pitch No. 5, the hard-throwing righty unleashed an elevated, 95-mph fastball and Altuve, who has an 86-percent contact rate, swung through it for a game-ending strikeout.

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“It’s one of the best hitters in baseball,” Allen said. “Those are situations that you don’t like them all the time, but in hindsight, you enjoy them. It’s competition at its best. A game on the line against a very good team.”

Immediately after the strikeout, Altuve looked in Allen’s direction and nodded in respect.

Allen didn’t see it at the time.

“I think I was catching my breath,” said the closer. “That’s pretty cool. That’s a guy that, he’s one of the faces of baseball. So, to get that, that’s pretty cool. Before my career’s over, I’ll probably be sending a jersey over for him to sign one day. He’s one of those guys.”

After Allen wrapped up talking to reporters, he said, “I’m going to go watch that right now.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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