Covering the Bases: Game 150

guyerwalkoffSome notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Royals

FIRST: For a moment, while the Indians were partying on the field, it looked like the Royals might challenge the call.

Brandon Guyer emerged from the mob sans helmet, jersey untucked and soaked from the spray of water cups that flew from the full tray wielded by Lonnie Chisenhall. The fireworks had gone off. The crowd was raucous. Players were all over the infield. Was Kansas City really going to challenge that it was a hit?

“It would have been a little weird if it was foul and I had to go back,” Guyer said, “all the Gatorade on me and stuff, and clean up the field and the cups. That would have been really awkward and weird.”

Here’s how close Guyer’s single down the right-field line came to being foul:

guyerhit

OK, yes, that looks a little like a grainy Bigfoot sighting photo, but that little white blurry thing just beyond the reach of right fielder Paulo Orlando is the baseball. It bounced just inside the line, avoided a sliding Orlando and rattled around in the corner for what was deemed a double (and later changed to a single).

Guyer’s game-winner off Joakim Soria came with two outs and runners on second and third, scored Coco Crisp and gave Cleveland its 11th walkoff win of the season. The Tribe has been spreading the walk-off wealth, too. The decisive blows have come from…

Gomes &
Napoli &
Santana &
Ramirez &
Lindor &
Naquin &
Kipnis &
Chisenhall &
Guyer.

Nine different players have delivered. Only Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez have been in the center of the mob twice. The Indians have the most walk-off wins in the Majors now, playing a big role in the Tribe reaching 50 wins at home.

“I think it’s just the group of people we have in that clubhouse,” Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. “Everybody roots for each other. The definition of ‘team’ is in that clubhouse. Everybody loves hanging out with each other, loves playing cards with each other. It’s just a good group of guys to be around every day. We try to get to the ballpark pretty early and everybody is always in a good mood, joking around, having a good time. It’s just loose and everybody enjoys everybody.

“It’s not surprising to me hearing that, that there’s nine different guys out of 11 that have done it. It’s not surprising. We have a good team. That’s all there is to it. We have a great team.”

One interesting aspect this time around was the fact that Indians manager Terry Francona went with Guyer as a pinch-hitter against Soria, a right-hander. Guyer, as has been noted plenty of times, was acquired mainly due to his ability to hit lefties. Well, as it happens, Soria has struggled against righties (to the tune of a .918 OPS) this year.

“Soria’s probably tougher on lefties than he is on righties,” Francona said. “So, that was part of why we let him hit there.”

It worked, and Guyer was happy to get that chance.

“I relish any opportunity to play,” he said. “If it’s going in of defense, pinch run, hit, righty, lefty, it really doesn’t matter to me. But, with this team, we have so many good players that my opportunities might not be a lot right now, and I’m fine with that. I came over to a great team and, fortunately, got a good opportunity tonight and with runners on base, in scoring position. Glad I came through.”

SECOND: Josh Tomlin is not Carlos Carrasco. He’s not Danny Salazar, either. The veteran pitcher relies on pinpoint command rather than an explosive arsenal. It has worked for Tomlin plenty of times in the past, and it worked again on Tuesday night.

With Carrasco and Salazar injured and out of the rotation, it goes without saying that Tomlin and Mike Clevinger need to step things up behind Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. Cleveland can only hope that Tomlin’s outing against Kansas City was a sign of things to come.

Tomlin certainly grasps the landscape.

“Carrasco and Danny are a key part of that rotation. We all know that,” Tomlin said. “Everybody knows that. But, our job is to step up. Our job is to go out there and give this team a chance to win. It’s not to try to do what Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar can do. It’s to try to be ourselves and give our team a chance to win every fifth day.”

Against the Royals, Tomlin went 6.2 innings, allowing one run on five hits. The righty struck out three, walked none and bowed out after 84 pitches. It was an effective, efficient outing for Tomlin, and one that featured a more even mix of pitches to keep Kansas City guessing.

Tomlin threw 25-percent four-seamers, 25-percent curves, 21.4-percent sinkers, 21.4-percent cutters and 7.1-percent changeups. The only percentage aligned with his overall season rate was the change. As for the rest, Tomlin decreased his cutter usage by a lot, upped the amount of breaking balls, and trusted his fastballs more than he has this year.

“I think for me, it’s just understanding what I’m capable of doing,” Tomlin said. “And that’s trying to get weak contact early on. It’s not trying to blow guys away or shy away from contact, or try to get strikeouts. It’s try to limit the damage as much as you can, and pitch to contact, but try to get weak contact early in the count and try to let the defense play.

“The execution of pitches is mainly the thing I have to work on and stay sharp with, because I’m not an overpowering pitcher. I have to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. When I miss, I need to miss to the side I’m trying to go to.”

Tomlin’s past two starts have been strong, and he’s given up two runs on 10 hits with six strikeouts and no walks in his last three outings (12.2 innings). That’s a drastic improvement — albeit in a small sample size — from August, when he went 0-5 with an 11.48 ERA.

“Both of us, we know we have to step up,” said Tomlin, referring also to Clevinger. “We know we have to try to go out there and log innings and keep us in the game. We’re up for the challenge. We’re ready for it, and we’re trying to do the best we can to try to help win the Central and get into the playoffs and play deep into the playoffs.”

THIRD: After allowing a two-out triple in the seventh — one that bounced by a diving Tyler Naquin in center — Tomlin exited to a standing ovation. Setup man Bryan Shaw then entered and induced an inning-ending flyout from Orlando.

“You just have to focus on the hitter,” Shaw said of the situation. “You can’t focus on, ‘If I throw a ball in the dirt,’ or, ‘If I do this or that.’ You have to focus on the hitter in the box and get him out, whether it’s a ground ball, strikeout, pop out. As long as he puts it in play, it doesn’t matter if the guy’s on first, second or third.”

Shaw got the job done.

After Shaw allowed a one-out single in the eighth, it was Miller Time.

While Miller faced Christian Colon, pinch-runner Terrance Gore stole second base and moved up to third on a wild pitch. With the game caught in a 1-1 tie, a fleet-footed runner was now 90 feet away from putting the Royals ahead. Was Miller worried?

“Not with ‘Berto,” Miller said. “The way he receives the ball, the way he blocks the plate, calls a game — I think I’ve been fortunate to throw to a lot of good catchers — it’s just been a lot of fun to get to see him.”

It goes beyond blocking and game calling with catcher Roberto Perez. As the Royals experienced in the eighth, Perez is also an elite pitch framer. Both Colon and Whit Merrifield walked away after called third strikes, ending the inning and stranding Gore. As Merrifield left the field, he mouthed, “That’s not a strike,” to home-plate umpire Carlos Torres. Merrifield may have had a point, but Perez sold it.

Here is the Strike Three call to Colon (Pitch No. 6):

colonk

Here is the Strike Three call to Merrifield (Pitch No. 8):

merrifieldk

Heading into Tuesday’s game, Perez ranked third in the American League with a 5.5 Runs Above Average for pitch framing (min. 3,000 samples), according to data compiled by StatCorner.com. Perez actually ranks first in the AL with an average of 1.00 strike call per game.

Perez’s 5.5 RAA is in 3,227 samples. For comparison, Houston’s Jason Castro, whose 12.6 RAA leads the AL, has 7,568 samples. Castro is a tick below Perez with 0.97 calls per game. If Perez had a full season of innings, he might be at or near the top in RAA in the league.

“I think he’s helping us out a lot,” Miller said. “He gives us the ability to just go out there and throw whatever we want. He’s going to knock it down, make it look like a strike, whatever it is. He’s pretty awesome.”

HOME: With a dozen games to go, the race is on between Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli for the 2016 Indians Home Run Crown. Napoli currently has the lead with 34 shots this season, while Santana is now one behind after launching No. 33 on Tuesday.

That blast gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in the third inning. The Royals may have already had a run or two by that point, if it hadn’t been for a stellar defense effort by both Naquin in center and Jason Kipnis at second base.

Kendrys Morales led off the second inning with a deep fly to left-center, where Naquin hustled to track down the ball. Meanwhile, Morales was running around first with a double in mind, and he turned in his second-fastest home-to-first (8.99 seconds) of the season, per Statcast.

Naquin, however, uncorked a 95.7-mph throw (ninth-hardest among MLB assists this year), which Kipnis caught with an acrobatic stab. The second baseman then lunged towards the bag, applying the tag on Morales just in time for an inning-opening out.

“That’s huge,” Tomlin said. “That goes from nobody out, man on second base, where a big inning can occur with one swing of the bat, to one out and nobody on base. That’s a huge part of that game. I know it’s early in the game, but you look back at it, it ends up being a 1-1 game until the end of the game. You look back at it, that could’ve went differently very quick.

“That was a great play by him getting the ball in as quick as he can, and then the tag by Kip was unebelievable. It kind of took a bad hop on him and jumped up on him, and he grabbed it and turned around and tagged him. It was a great play by both of those guys.”

EXTRAS: For anyone who had their popcorn ready, bracing for a clash between longtime beat reporter Paul Hoynes and the Indians’ players, well, Tuesday was fairly drama-free in that department. Hoynes showed up and did his job, as he’s done for 34 years covering the Indians. And, despite some Twitter tough talk from the players, cooler heads prevailed in the clubhouse before Tuesday’s game. I may not agree with Hoynes’ approach to Saturday’s column, but I have nothing but respect and admiration for the man and the job he’s done for so many years.

If you want a great take on the whole situation, here’s one from Anthony Castrovince:

And another from Zack Meisel:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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