Covering the Bases: Game 141

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins

Some notes and quotes from Saturday’s 2-1, 12-inning loss to the Twins

FIRST: As the Twins and Indians pushed and pulled and played on into extra innings, it was only a matter of time before someone flinched. In the case of rookie reliever Joe Colon, that’s literally what changed the game for Cleveland.

Colon’s ill-timed balk in the 12th inning set the stage for a walk-off win for the Twins, who cost the Tribe a chance at adding to its lead atop the Central standings. Mauer roped a two-out single into right-center field for the game-winning hit, dealing the Indians their third loss in 12 games.

“You get into 11 or 12 innings on the road,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “when you give up a hit, you go home. But, we had a chance.”

Francona came out ahead in one managerial chess match (more on that in a bit), but Cleveland’s strategy to not intentionally walk Mauer in the 12th backfired. That decision wasn’t as cut-and-dry as it looked on the surface, though.

First, about the balk. With Mauer in a 1-2 count, Colon peered in for the sign from catcher Chris Gimenez and there was a momentary mix-up. Rather than just stepping off the mound, the reliever flinched his back leg before moving off the rubber. It was a mistake, and it was easy to spot. Dozier, who singled with two outs, jogged up 90 feet.

“[Colon] said he looked in and didn’t see the first sign that I put down,” Gimenez said. “I think it kind of just flinched him a little bit. I immediately went to the second one. With a runner at first base, we were going just one sign. But, he didn’t see it and I think he just had that little flinch.

“I couldn’t call timeout quick enough. I tried, because I saw it. As soon as I started to yell time, the umpire said that was a balk. I tried to pull a fast one on him, but it didn’t work.”

Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway then headed out to the mound to discuss the new situation with Colon and Gimenez. Indians manager Terry Francona said they did not want to just put Mauer on, even with first base now open. Colon was still ahead in the count, giving him some wiggle room in how to approach the hitter.

“I didn’t want to put him in a position where, if he didn’t throw strikes, he was going to be in a tough spot,” said Francona, referring to the idea of intentionally walking Mauer. “Being ahead, 1-2, we wanted to use that to our advantage.”

This is where the ol’ unintentional, intentional walk comes into play. No, they didn’t want to just gift Mauer with a free pass — not when he was behind in the count. That said, the Indians didn’t want to give him anything good to hit, either.

“We’re not trying to pitch to him in any way, shape or form,” Gimenez said. “I would much rather take my chances with [Jorge] Polcano on-deck than to have to face Joe Mauer to potentially win the game. That was definitely the thought process.”

When the count ran full, Gimenez wanted a breaking ball in the dirt. Looking over Mauer’s career performance against right-handed curveballs, it’s easy to see why a pitcher would want to bury one low and out of the strike zone.

mauermap

Do you see those maroon and red boxes, though?

Well, here’s where Colon’s pitch (No,. 8 below) wound up going:

mauer

That’s just a poorly-executed pitch.

“I wanted the ball in the dirt,” Gimenez said. “And I know he was trying to execute it there. He left it up a little bit, middle, and that’s one of the best hitters to ever play baseball.”

SECOND: The baseball gods can be pretty cruel sometimes.

On Friday night, when Cleveland knew it had a bullpen day coming Saturday, Danny Salazar exited with injury, forcing the bullpen to handle five innings. And, in this one, the game lasts a dozen innings.

“Of course,” Gimenez said.

Here was the good news: Rookie Mike Clevinger turned in a promising performance in his “start” in front of the nine relievers who appeared in the loss. After logging 43 pitches in Monday’s bullpen game, Clevinger threw 62 against the Twins. He said he felt like he could’ve kept going, too.

“I’m too much of a competitor,” Clevinger said. “I’m going to leave it in the hands
of Tito and Mickey and let them take it from there.”

In the first two innings, Clevinger issued a pair of walks, allowed a solo home run and his second frame consisted of 24 pitches. The second time through the Twins’ order, though, Clevinger cruised. Minnesota went 0-for-7 against him in that span, which included five strikeouts.

“That was the best we’ve seen,” Francona said. “He gave us four and the way he held his stuff. The first couple innings, there were some walks and some deeper counts, but I thought as he sped up his rhythm, you saw him be more aggressive and in the strike zone with good stuff. That was really good to see.”

Clevinger credited catcher Roberto Perez for the improved tempo.

“Yeah, ‘Berto came back in, and he had an idea about getting back into a quicker tempo,” Clevinger said. “I think the second I found that tempo and being more rhythmic, it helped me find my release point more consistent.”

In his first three Major League starts in May, Clevinger posted an 8.79 ERA. In his 10 games since then, the right-hander has a 3.00 ERA to go along with a .204 opponents’ average and 27 strikeouts in 27 innings. Walks have been an issue throughout, but Clevinger has certainly looked better as the season has progressed.

The Indians can only hope it continues. With Salazar’s status uncertain, Clevinger and Josh Tomlin will be in the rotation. They will start on Wednesday and Thursday in Chicago (the order to be determined).

“Obviously, losing Salazar for any period of time, that’s a big deal,” Gimenez said. “But, the fact that we do have guys that are truly capable of stepping in, it makes it a lot easier.”

THIRD: The in-game chess match that Francona won came in the seventh.

James Beresford led off with a single against Shawn Armstrong and was then moved up to second via a sac bunt from Byron Buxton. That prompted Callaway to chat with Armstrong, who issued an intentional walk to Dozier. The second baseman has about a 1.200 OPS since the end of July, so an IBB with first open made a lot of sense.

That brought up Mauer.

Now, rather than hand the ball to relief ace Andrew Miller with 1-1 deadlock in the seventh, and the game potentially on the line, Francona turned to lefty Kyle Crockett. On the year as a whole, Crockett has given up a .316 average (.770 OPS) to lefties between Triple-A and the Majors.

Looking at Crockett’s more recent outings paints a different picture, though. Since returning to the Majors on July 19, the lefty had limited left-handed batters to a .217 (.554 OPS) showing, entering the night. Mauer was sporting a .239 (.648 OPS) showing against lefty pitching.

Crockett fell behind, 2-0, but then worked back to even and eventually froze Mauer with a low-and-away fastball for strike three. Zach McAllister then entered the game and finished off Polanco to end the inning.

“That’s a big spot,” Francona said of Crockett’s battle with Mauer. “And he did well.”

Francona did eventually turn to Miller for the 10th inning, which he handed in 13 pitches. Had Cleveland taken the lead in the 11th, Francona said Miller would’ve likely remained on the mound to close things out. With the game still knotted, the manager kept the line moving.

Francona said common sense has to outweigh temptation when it comes to potentially over-using his top arms.

“It’s always tempting,” said Francona, when asked if he considered keeping Miller in for a multi-inning outing. “And, if we would’ve taken a lead, we would have. But, no. Tempting is a bad word in the 11th inning. It’ll get you into trouble.”

HOME: There was little in the way of offense in the loss for the Tribe. Things looked good out of the gates, when Rajai Davis doubled, Jason Kipnis singled and Francisco Lindor put the Tribe on the board with a sacrifice fly.

Mike Napoli followed with a walk, Carlos Santana loaded the bases with an infield single and then …

… Minnesota won in the 12th.

After Santana’s single in the first, Cleveland went 2-for-21 the rest of the way against lefty Hector Santiago and then 2-for-16 against the Twins bullpen. Santiago allowed five hits, walked four and only struck out two, but Cleveland did little damage with the balls put in play.

The Tribe finally looked like it had a breakthrough in the top of the ninth inning. Lonnie Chisenhall singled and moved up to second on a sac bunt from Coco Crisp. The Twins then opted to intentionally walk pinch-hitter Tyler Naquin, pitting Davis against reliever Brandon Kintzler.

Davis sliced a pitch hard down the right-field line, where Minnesota’s Max Kepler sprinted in pursuit of the ball. If it dropped in, Davis would have likely had at least a double and one, maybe two runs, would’ve scored for the Tribe. The ball never hit the ground.

According to Statcast, Kepler covered 70 feet and hit a top speed of 18.7 mph. The right fielder, who has killed Cleveland with his bat all year, used an all-out dive to snare the ball with his glove. It was a game-saving catch.

It was also a bit of payback for Kepler. On Friday night, he hit a sinking liner down the left-field line in the eighth, when the Twins were trying to cut into the Tribe’s 5-4 lead. On that play, it was Davis who made a highlight-reel diving catch to rob Kepler of an extra-base hit and a potential Minnesota rally.

“Those are plays that save you a games,” Francona said of Kepler’s catch. “That was a really nice play.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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