Second Thoughts Game #112: Tigers 4, Indians 2
Perez implodes in 9th to blow key game for Indians
After taking the final two of a short three-game road trip in Miami, the Indians returned home to start the most important series of their season against the division-leading Tigers. The home team controlled the first eight innings of the game in just about every facet, but one pitch in the ninth changed everything.
Yet another gem
Poor pitching has been the biggest obstacle for the Indians when facing the Tigers so far this season. Corey Kluber set quite the pace for the rotation to start this series.
Against one of the most potent lineups in baseball, Kluber was in control all night. After the first and second innings, in which he allowed four of his seven total baserunners, it was smooth sailing. There were three innings in which he needed just eight pitches to get through them, and averaged just over 14 per inning through his 7.1 frames of shutout work. All of the six hits he allowed were singles.
He pitched free and easy, moving his fastball around, and pitching off of it with even better breaking stuff. His average fastball velocity was 95, and he topped out at 98. He got a solid 10 swings and misses out of his 105 pitches, and threw 68.5% strikes.
All of that being said, I would be remiss not to mention the Indians defense behind him. Off the top of my head, it was perhaps their most well-defended game of the season. Routine and far from, they made essentially every play that could have been made. Michael Brantley added another outfield assist, Michael Bourn took away extra bases and Jason Kipnis stole a pair of hits, just to name a few.
Kluber deserves a ton of credit for starting off this series the way he did. He lowered his season earned run average to 3.54, while piling up an excellent 116 strikeouts to just 26 walks in 122 innings. He continues to be perhaps the team's biggest "x-factor," and hopefully this performance will keep fueling the competitive nature that has propelled the rotation lately.
More two-out magic, but inches keep the Indians from more
The Indians' offense wasn't able to garner many scoring opportunities against Anibal Sanchez, but they did continue perpetuating the two-out narrative.
Jason Giambi came through with a single in the second inning, opening the scoring and putting the team in the familiar position of scoring first. In the fourth, Carlos Santana doubled home another.
Santana's ball seemed like a no-doubter off the bat, but ended up hitting just under the yellow line on the right field wall. Following Giambi in the second, Lonnie Chisenhall drove a ball to straightaway center that was tracked down by a leaping Austin Jackson, just missing getting out. As they say, baseball is a game of inches, and just a few kept the Indians from having a 4-0 lead. You can say similar things for a million games before this one, but as it were, those extra two runs that never were would end up making a world of a difference.
There are plenty of people that will point to the lowly two runs and continue expressing concerns about the lineup, but personally, I still don't really share them. Every team would gladly take a dependable middle-of-the-order hitter in the heart of a pennant race, but I'm not sure how readily available those are in August, and more importantly, the Indians have still been an elite offense from any production standpoint that you prefer. Keep in mind that the two most inconsistent hitters in this lineup, Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera, have yet to really get going. Swisher shows signs, and I expect him to finish the season strong, but cleanup-htting Cabrera is the biggest issue right now.
A lack of relief
Before I get to the main culprit, it is worth mentioning that Joe Smith and Cody Allen also struggled, although both were able to keep the Tigers off the board.
But, it was one pitch from Chris Perez that changed this game.
Perez, pitching in his third straight game and sixth in eight days, clearly was not ready to pitch in this one. He couldn't locate his fastball, putting him behind in counts and eliminating any real chance to utilize his slider. He faced four batters: double, single, walk, back-breaking home run. In the blink of an eye, the Indians 2-0 lead and control of the game was gone. They would not recover.
As brutal as the outing was, it was Perez's first real dud since returning from the disabled list. In his last 18 appearances before this one, he had allowed just two runs, zero of which came from the longball. Has he been overused lately? Perhaps.
At the end of the day, he is a closer that allows too many baserunners and makes things awfully hard on himself without elite stuff to depend on. Beyond that, failing in the biggest game of the season thus far, and then hurrying out of the ballpark without talking to any media could leave Indians fans to wonder about his mental toughness.
The one positive of the group was newcomer Marc Rzepczynski, who came into a bases loaded mess that Allen created (with a little help from Santana) after the Perez blow-up and got Prince Fielder to roll over on a slider. For a left-handed specialist, that is exactly what you're looking for.
Up next: The second game of this pivotal series, which will match up Justin aces, Masterson and Verlander, for the fifth time in their careers. Yours truly will be taking it in from the Social Suite.
1. It's too bad Perez didn't know something was up ahead of time and motioned to Francona that he just wasn't right- that would have made it easier for Francona to remove him early. While some might say, well, he gave up on the team, in hindsight especially, it might have been more beneficial because, let's face it, squaring up a 95-98 MPH fastball from Allen would have been much harder than hitting the 91 MPH stuff Perez was throwing. Granted, Allen's command is iffy, but no worse than what Perez showed last night, and in a critical game such as last night, I think those "traditions" have to be put on the back-burner when the situation calls for it, and last night was one of those situations because he wasn't right. If Allen had faltered, yes, there would have been controversy, but no more than what the Indians are facing today with Perez's implosion and then quick departure from the clubhouse.
2. Didn't that 3-game and 4-game period for Perez occur before his stint on the DL? I also think that Saturday night's effort could almost be counted as 2-days' worth because of how hard he had to work. In addition, I don't know how humid it was in Miami those two days he worked, but that likely played a factor as well, and most times in August, it is humid in Miami.
Hope the Indians bounce back and try not to do too much to make up for this disappointing loss.
Francona good at helping put a team together but game decisions are a little suspect. On Sun the Miami pitcher is blowing your team away with heat so you sacrifice to put 2 men in scoring position then pinch hit a 41 yr old. .. I know they won the game but that was puzzling.
Meanwhile, Hagadone was upset with himself for letting team down he punches a wall (granted its foolish) but then the organization goes out and tries to withhold his pay, yet this clown who doesn't give a damn about anybody and has no accountability gets to keep his job despite busted for drugs, running his mouth about fans, owners, front office, etc. Amazing. Granted, he gets saves against bad teams but I honestly can't wait to see this clown go.