Covering the Bases: Game 151
Some notes and quotes from Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the Royals
FIRST: Terrance Gore is a weapon for the Royals. When a game is close, and he dons a blue helmet for Kansas City and heads to a base as a pinch-runner, everyone knows what it about to happen.
“As soon as they brought Gore in,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said on Wednesday night, “I knew he was going to come in and try to steal a base.”
Gore did it to Perez on Tuesday night. Cheslor Cuthbert reached with a single up the middle, Gore put on his helmet and headed to first base, and the fleet-footed outfielder quickly swiped second base. Perez would get a shot at redemption 24 hours later.
In the ninth inning in this one, Salvador Perez led off with a towering homer off closer Cody Allen, cutting Cleveland’s lead to 4-3. Alex Gordon followed with a walk, prompting Royals manager Ned Yost to send Gore to first as a pinch-runner. That put K.C. just 90 feet from having the tying run in scoring position, and with no outs.
Perez knew the Royals’ plan. Allen knew the Royals’ plan. The whole stadium was just waiting for Gore to take off.
“On my end, all I’m trying to do is just disrupt his timing as much as possible,” Allen said. “I don’t want him to get a good jump. Jumps come off the pitchers. So, a guy that quick, that good at what he does, you’re trying your best just to kind of let his feet sink into the ground a little bit right there, so he doesn’t get a good jump.”
Allen fired over to first baseman Mike Napoli twice, varying the time between tosses. For his first pitch to Alcides Escobar, the closer waited eight seconds after coming set, and checked the runner subtly four times, before firing a ball. On the 1-0 offering, Allen again stayed still on the mound after coming set for several seconds.
Then, when Allen went into his motion, Gore bolted for second.
“The last thing you want to do right there,” Allen said, “is you’re so worried so much about the runner that you get 2-0 to a hitter like Escobar, or you throw one right down the middle as Gore is running and he gets a base hit. So, I’m just trying to do as good a job as I can to just disrupt his timing and get the ball to Roberto.”
According to Statcast, Gore had a lead of 11.1 feet and a first-step time of 0.2 seconds. The runner hit a top speed of 21.7 mph and got to second base in 3.6 seconds. Allen had a release time (start of motion to release of ball) of 1.04 seconds, which was under the 1.11 average for right-handed pitchers. And Perez had an exchange time of 0.5 seconds.
Add all that up, and the ball popped into shortstop Francisco Lindor’s glove before Gore arrived at the bag.
After the tag and the out call, Lindor stood up and motioned to Perez before shouting, and pumping his arms in celebration. At home plate, the catcher emphatically pumped his fist, too. Not only was this a critical out at a crucial time, this marked the first time in Gore’s Major League career (regular season) that he had been thrown out.
“I was pumped,” Perez said. “Especially when you no one had caught him stealing. For me, I was able to throw him out. It was good for me and good for the team, too.”
Now, it’s not like Gore had never been caught stealing before. He was nabbed five times in the Minors this year, in fact. And, at the MLB level, Gore was caught once during the American League Division Series last year. For his professional career, Gore boasted an impressive 92-percent (272-for-297) success rate prior to Wednesday.
In the regular season, Gore had been a perfect 17-for-17.
“I’m not frickin’ God,” Gore quipped with Kansas City reporters. “I just got a terrible jump. If you watch the video, it was pretty bad. I wouldn’t have gone, but in that situation I still felt like I had a chance.”
Allen raved about Perez’s throw.
“Honestly, between him and Yan [Gomes],” Allen said, “those are the two best-throwing catchers that I’ve seen in the big leagues. That’s a credit [to them]. Those guys really work at what they do and they take a lot of pride in it. He freaking caught it, got rid of it and put it right on the bag.
“That was probably the quickest I’ve ever been to the plate. Roberto’s put up some really low numbers, but … he put it on the bag. That was huge. He bailed me out right there.”
Allen retired the next two batters to seal the win.
“When we got the tack-on run [in the eighth],” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “I told Millsy, I said, ‘Boy, good, that’ll take Gore out of the game.’ It figures. And Perez, everybody will be talking about the throw, because it was a great throw, but Cody also gave him a chance.”
SECOND: The AL Cy Young race didn’t become any easier to call on Wednesday night.
Indians ace Corey Kluber picked up his 18th win after turning in 6.1 solid innings against the Royals. The right-hander struck out nine, including five in a row between the fifth and sixth, and seven within the final dozen batters he faced. Kluber ended with two runs allowed on six hits in a 102-pitch effort.
“He’s so consistent,” Francona said. “He’s the same guy every five days. I mean that as the biggest compliment you can give somebody. He probably had a few more pitches in him.”
Here is a glance at the primary AL Cy Young contenders:
Yeah, this race remains too close to call.
Among those seven — I chose that group due to being the only pitchers with a 4.0+ fWAR at the moment — Tanaka and Sale also pitched on Wednesday. Tanaka beat the Rays with a six-inning outing, in which he allowed four runs. Sale took a loss against the Phillies after giving up six runs in four innings.
Kluber appears to be getting stronger as the season wears on.
After opening the year 0-3 with a 6.19 ERA through his first three starts, Kluber has gone 18-6 with a 2.81 ERA, .235 opponents’ average, 1.11 WHIP, 9.6 K/9 and 4.0 K/BB in 28 turns (192 IP). Since the start of June, when Kluber was 4-6 with a 4.15 ERA, he is 14-3 with a 2.56 ERA, .200 opponents’ average, 1.01 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB in 20 starts (137.1 IP).
The more recent benchmark has been July 3, when Kluber coughed up up five runs in 3.1 innings in Toronto. Since then? The righty has gone 10-1 with a 2.32 ERA, .208 opponents’ average, 1.05 WHIP, 10.2 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB in 14 starts (97 IP).
THIRD: The point has been made before, but it doesn’t cease to be any less remarkable. The Indians lost Michael Brantley and have essentially replaced him with Michael Brantley. Jose Ramirez’s incredible season continues to mirror Brantley’s production.
After his 3-for-3, three-double day against the Royals, consider where the Dr. Smooth vs. Dr. Clutch situation stands. Let’s just look at Brantley from a year ago compared to what Ramirez has done in his place this year.
2015 Brantley: .310/.379/.480 (596 plate appearances)
2016 Ramirez: .315/.367/.462 (581 plate appearances)
2015 Brantley: .15 HR, 45 2B, 15 SB, 84 RBI, 68 R, 60 BB, 51 K, 164 H
2016 Ramirez: 10 HR, 42 2B, 22 SB, 71 RBI, 79 R, 43 BB, 60 K, 167 H
“He’s been so consistent,” Francona said of Ramirez. “Right-handed, left-handed, he’s shooting the ball all over the ballpark, making plays at third.”
Ramirez currently ranks third on the Indians in fWAR (4.1), and second in OPS (.830) and wRC+ (122). Among qualified American League hitters, Ramirez ranks fifth in Win Probability Added (3.83), trailing Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, David Ortiz and Carlos Beltran. There are a few MVP candidates in that class. Another, Mookie Betts, ranks just behind Ramirez in that area.
A year after hiting .219 with a .631 OPS, Ramirez is batting .315 with an .830 OPS.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” Allen said. “I think everybody forgets how young he was when he first came up. There was a lot thrown on his plate the last couple years. He’s an extremely talented player. He has a lot of ability. And, for him, I’m sure the game’s slowed down quite a bit this year. He’s done a remarkable job day in, day out. We’re lucky to have him.”
HOME: Could Wednesday have been a glimpse into potential postseason usage for Cleveland’s pitching staff?
With the bullpen the Indians are featuring right now, Francona isn’t afraid to go to the group early in a tight game. Kluber was at 102 pitches when he was pulled from the game in the seventh. The ace is capable of handling more, and would have gone longer, but Miller was warm, Cleveland had a two-run lead, and KC had a runner on second.
“When we get Miller up,” Francona said, “because he had thrown [1 2/3 innings] last night, I wanted to get him in so we don’t waste it.”
Kluber was fine with that, too.
“I didn’t have any problem coming out of the game right there,” Kluber said. “With the guys we’ve got in our bullpen and the way they’ve been pitching lately, there’s no second-guessing there.”
Miller got the next two out, Bryan Shaw worked a one-two-three eighth, and Allen got the save after allowing the leadoff home run. In a postseason setting — especially in games featuring Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin or Mike Clevinger — Cleveland might only need five innings from its starter.
Wednesday showed that, even with Kluber, Francona can have a slightly quicker hook given the relief weapons he’s wielding right now.
Stay tuned for more…