Covering the Bases: Game 139
Some notes and quotes from Thursday’s 10-7 win over Houston
FIRST: The ball was rolling away behind home plate. Catcher Jason Castro was standing in front of home-plate umpire, Jim Joyce, arguing. Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli and Jose Ramirez just kept running. Lonnie Chisenhall, the batter, stood off to the side as a spectator.
No one was quite sure what was going on.
“It was like, ‘What happened?'” Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer said. “And then it was such a weird [play]. The catcher didn’t go after it. Everyone was just kind of standing around. They didn’t appeal to third. No one really made a call and guys were just [running around the bases]. I didn’t know what was going on.”
At the root of all the confusion was a 2-2 pitch from Houston rookie David Paulino. With the bases loaded and two outs in the third, his offering to Chisenhall bounced in the dirt and then struck the Indians outfielder’s bat. Foul ball. Play’s dead. It seemed pretty clear when looking at the replay.
Here was the issue: Joyce called it a wild pitch, which is not reviewable. Under that scenario, the ball was live, meaning that Lindor, Napoli and Ramirez should all have been counted as runs for their jogs home amidst the arguing. Here’s the other thing, though: Joyce called time during his discussion with Castro.
After the game, a pool reporter asked Joyce why he called time at that moment:
“A player [was] discussing with me what had happened and he was emphatic about it. I’m not going to let bases loaded, keep rolling. To use a little bit of common sense and some fair play on that one, I wanted to call time and figure out what had happened.”
As for the wild pitch call, Joyce consulted the rest of the crew:
“We did not have the ball hitting the bat,” Joyce said. “Me, originally, and then I went to each crew member and asked them the same thing. If any of them had it hitting the bat, I would have turned around and called a foul ball. My partners couldn’t help me on it. Since I called timeout, I score two runs and put the other guy on third.”
So, in Joyce’s determination, Lindor and Napoli scored from third and second, respectively. Ramirez was sent back to third. The crew then consulted replay to confirm that the play was not reviewable, and to doublecheck where Ramirez should be placed. Ramirez was then sent back to second before play resumed.
“You have to continue to play the game and let the umpires make the call,” Lindor said. “I’m going to continue to play the game and I’m glad Napoli went hard. Napoli’s always done that. I touched home plate and I started telling him, ‘Come home. Come home. Come home.’ But, he was on his way. As soon as he touched the plate, we went back to the dugout. That was huge.”
Added Indians manager Terry Francona: “Nobody ever wants to have a call go against them. I will say, that guy behind the plate [Joyce] gives you as good an effort and is as conscientious as any umpire I’ve ever been around. And there have been calls that have gone against us with him. It’s just hard to get mad at him, because he gives you everything you ever ask for.”
Astros manager A.J. Hinch said: “I think everybody in the ballpark saw the play the way it happened except for the four guys on the field. The hitter’s reaction and the catcher’s reaction and the baserunners’ reaction told the story. … Common sense loses again, so all you can do is wear it. Game-changing plays should be reviewable.”
“I have not seen the play, yet,” Joyce said. “I will be looking at it tonight, you can bank on that.”
SECOND: Throughout his Indians career, Carlos Santana has been a target of criticism from a certain segment of the Cleveland fan base that has an infatuation for batting average. I put some of the blame on former manager Manny Acta, but only due to the high expectations he placed on the Tribe’s switch-hitting catcher.
Several years ago, when Santana was still cutting his teeth in the Majors,Acta opined that the former catcher could develop into “a monster” as a hitter. Acta said that, not only did Santana have the potential launch 30 home runs and draw 100 walks, he could be a .300 hitter.
Santana never did develop into that player for the Indians. He has become a versatile, valuable player, though.
Some fans, however, have latched onto the fact that he doesn’t hit for a high average, among other things. (That led to the creation of the Carlos Santana Narrative Buster by Fangraphs’ August Fagerstrom.) He hit .231 in each of the past two years, for example. In that same stretch, and throughout his career, he continued to post a plus on-base percentage, while offering solid power and ranking near the top of MLB in pitches per plate appearances and walks.
Well, guess what? Santana won’t hit .300 this year, but he has finally crossed that 30-homer plateau.
“It was great,” Santana said. “I’m so happy, especially today, getting the top in my career. Thirty home runs. I’m happy.”
That led to a special moment shared between Santana and Mike Napoli in the dugout after No. 30 arrived. After Santana’s two-run shot in the fifth, he received high fives from his teammates in the dugout, where he then took a seat on the bench. That’s when Napoli called him over and gave him a big congratulatory bear hug.
“Nap and him had a good moment in the dugout,” Bauer said, “where they were proud of each other, and congratulating each other. Hopefully, they get to 40. That’d be great.”
Santana and Napoli are the first Indians teammates to have at least 30 homers apiece in the same season since 2002, when Jim Thome and Ellis Burks achieved the feat.
“I’m happy for him,” Napoli said. “I remember saying in Spring Training that we were both going to hit 30. I think it’s a pretty cool and a special moment for me and him. He’s done a lot to help us this year.”
One of the issues in previous years with Santana was that he griped some about serving as a designated hitter. This year, he has embraced every challenge or request thrown his way by Francona. He has started 51 games at first base and 81 at DH. He has started 73 games as the leadoff man and 58 between the Nos. 4-5 spots.
Along the way, he’s posted a career high in homers and could end the year with a personal best for slugging percentage and OPS. As of this writing, he and Josh Donaldson are the only hitters in baseball with at least 30 homers, 70 RBI, 75 runs and 85 walks.
“Carlos has done a number of things this year that are improved over the past,” Francona said. “It’s been so much fun watching it happen. He’s joining in more as a teammate and handling moving back and forth, and hitting first, hitting fifth. Nothing has taken the smile off his face, and that’s a really good thing.”
Side note: Napoli almost launched No. 32 in this win, too. In the third, he absolutely crushed a pitch down the left-line, where it yanked foul with an exit velocity of 113 mph. Thanks to Statcast, we also know that it soared 464 glorious feet. That is… far. Alas, it was just a pretty foul ball.
THIRD: After I posted the lineup before today’s game, this predictable tweet popped up in my mentions…
Well, guess what, Jason? Good news: It’s still September.
Abraham Almonte may not be eligible for postseason baseball in October, but he is still very eligible to help Cleveland achieve its playoff aspirations down the stretch here in September. Today, on Sept. 8, which is a day in which Almonte is still very much eligible to play for Cleveland, he had two hits, two runs, two RBI and one outfield assist.
In the second inning, Almonte played a carom off the left-field wall perfectly and fired a strike to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who tagged A.J. Reed for an out. Reed was trying to turn a surefire single into a double. Almonte then doubled to open the fourth and later scored. In the fifth, he delivered a two-run triple.
Yes, Almonte got popped for 81 games for testing positive for PEDs. It happened. It stunk for the Indians and has forever tainted what he did or will do on the field. There’s nothing Almonte or Cleveland can do about it now, though. The outfielder is on the roster, eligible to play and he can still impact the team.
And, Almonte has certainly done his part in trying to help Cleveland get to October, even if he can’t be a part of it.
“When he first got here for the first 10 days or two weeks [after the suspension],” Francona said, “you could kind of tell he didn’t quite know where he fit. At the time, our roster wasn’t perfect. But then, he started getting some at-bats and his game got sharper, too. Better outfielder. The things we saw last year.
“And he understands why we don’t play him sometimes. He’s still always ready to play.”
HOME: Bauer went five innings in this one and allowed five runs on seven hits, including a pair of home runs. He walked two, struck out two and was pulled after 79 pitches. It wasn’t a great outing and the righty wasn’t about to make any excuses.
“Yeah, I sucked. I was not good today,” Bauer said. “I’ll be better next time. Obviously, not one of my best ones.”
And that, really, was all there was to say about that.
The good news for Bauer was, as he so famously put it after one of his bad outings last season, “Team won.” The win for Cleveland increased the team’s lead over Detroit in the division to six games with 23 games left in the regular season. Bauer said he’s not much into scoreboard watching, but he did add this…
“We’re up. If we win, we’re in. If we lose, we give other teams a chance. When you’ve got people down, step on them and finish the thing.”
Napoli also wanted to make it clear that Cleveland isn’t just looking at the Tigers to see what they’re doing. The Indians want home-field advantage. They’re also keeping a close eye on the Rangers.
“We’re still a game and half back of Texas,” Napoli said. “We know every game is important, and there’s no letting down. Detroit has a good team. By no means are they out of this. I’ve seen leads shrink pretty quick. Our goal is to have the best record in the American League and try to have home-field advantage.
“Every game we come out, we’re going to be playing the game the right way and trying to win.”
Stay tuned for more…