Second Thoughts: Game #26 & #27 - Sweep!
May 8, 2012
|W: McAllister(1-0) L: Humber(1-2) S: Hagadone (1)|
|W: Smith (2-1) L: Thornton (1-2) S: Sipp (1)|
Quick Wrap on the Day Game:
The Tribe rocked White Sox starter Phil Humber to the tune of eight earned runs over an abbreviated 2 and 1/3 innings. Hafner took him deep to initiate the offensive downpour, while Santana, Brantley, and Kotchman all ripped doubles off the Sox starter. Brantley and Kotchman both had three RBI, as the Indians’ hitters were 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position. While the offensive eruption was impressive, a cold streak that saw 18 of the last 19 Indians hitters retired (with the exception being Hafner’s triple) could’ve proved costly, if the Sox would’ve finished off the comeback. But hey: woulda, coulda, shoulda.
The two big picture points to take from the day game involve pitching. Sure, the offense was the engine that drove the Indians to victory, at least for yesterday, but we’re talking long-term here. First, it was Zach McAllister who gave the Tribe a quality start, with six innings pitched, two earned runs (four runs total), on six hits and five strikeouts. He attacked Chicago hitters early and often, challenging them instead of nibbling, as he had in previous starts last year.
The second point involves the newest bullpen arm, Nick Hagadone. With Jairo Asencio walking Pierzynski and Rios to leadoff the 9th inning, he promptly uncorked a wild pitch to Alexei Ramirez, allowing the runners to advance a base each. One swing of the bat later, the Tribe lead was halved to two, as Ramirez singled to score a pair. Enter, the young southpaw, Nick Hagadone. He induced fly outs from Viciedo and Beckham, before yielding a walk to De Aza. With runners on 1st and 2nd, Hagadone kept his cool and got Lillibridge to end the game with a weak groundout to Kipnis, thus giving McAllister his first career win and Hagadone his first career save. The last time that happened in the same game, Clinton was in his first year in the Oval Office.
Yeah, the offense kept rolling, and don’t get me wrong, that’s great, but it’ll be interesting to track the young arms of McAllister and Hagadone, as their roles with the team could potentially become more meaningful as the season progresses.
A Nightcap in Three Parts
Act One: The Pitcher’s Duel
If you were expecting another rain delay to holdup the second game of the doubleheader (then you were a little early, the second delay of the day came in the eighth), then chances are that you missed the first three innings, as they were gone in a little over a half hour. Both starting pitchers were working quickly, attacking the zone and throwing a lot of first pitch strikes. The tribe flashed some of their defensive prowess, with a nice jump catch by Brantley in the 1st to rob Dunn on the warning track. The next inning, Marson delivered a perfect strike to second base, to catch Ramirez stealing, ending the inning.
In the first three innings, a mere four base runners (two for each team) reached, but otherwise Tomlin and Stults were locked in, for what seemed to be a quick-paced pitchers’ duel. Tomlin’s pitches were missing a lot of bats (20 swings and misses for Chicago against Tomlin), and he racked up four strikeouts through the first three frames. He did a great job of staying low in the zone and using the opposing hitters’ aggressiveness against them.
In the 4th, Tomlin surrendered a single to Rios, followed by an Adam Dunn walk. He fought back, punching out Ramirez and getting Fukudome to weakly ground out to Kipnis. With a runner in scoring position, Tomlin could’ve reverted to his past tendencies of trying to throw perfect pitches, but, in line with his start as a whole, he trusted his stuff and attacked the zone. Mirroring Chicago’s pair of base runners, the Tribe stayed patient at the plate and Cabrera and Santana forced back-to-back walks. Like Tomlin, Stults attacked the next two hitters and got out of the inning unscathed. So, after four full innings played, the game was setup for an unlikely pitchers’ duel.
Act Two: Rain, Rain Go Away
In the fifth inning the first two Chicago hitters reached on a single and double, respectively. With runners on second and third, Brent Morel grounded out to Cabrera to push the first run across. Keeping his composure on the mound, Tomlin settled in and got the next two batters, to keep the deficit at one. This was the first key moment in the game; if Tomlin unravels and the Sox hang a four or five-spot on the Tribe starter, then the Cleveland offense would’ve been prone to changing its approach, and could’ve pressed at the plate. Instead, he escaped, giving his ‘mates a chance to respond in the bottom half of the frame.
As the scuffling backup catcher, Lou Marson, worked a walk to setup a two-out rally. In a brilliant managerial move, Marson was sent on the first pitch of the next at-bat, giving Brantley a chance with a runner in scoring position. Well, all you have to do is tell this lineup there is a runner in scoring position with two outs, and presto, the runs start coming. Brantley hit a beautifully placed ball between 1st and 2nd base, scoring Marson.
But then, a light rain started to fall. Kipnis must’ve not noticed, as he smoked 1-2 belt-high breaking ball up the middle to put the Tribe on top, 2-1. Boy, is this kid just thriving in the two-hole in the lineup. Cabrera yanked a single to left, giving Cleveland three straight two out hits, but Santana grounded out to shortstop to end the inning. This two out rally was the second important point in the game, as it represented a sound rebuttal to Chicago’s run in the top of the frame. Finally, it also helped to elevate Stults’ pitch count. If the lineup continues to string together two out rallies, this offense should be in good shape.
The 6th and 7th innings were uneventful, aside from the mounting strikeout total that Tomlin amassed, eight total on the night. Stults was knocked out after six innings because of a high pitch count, thanks to a continued, successful plate approach by tribe hitters, who were patient taking the pitches they should take, and pouncing on the fat ones they should drive.
By the top of the 8th, the rain had really started falling heavily. Tomlin came out to retire Morel on a pop out. But then, the swampy conditions seemed to throw Tomlin a bit off-kilter. Whether it was trouble gripping the ball, a soggy landing spot, or fatigue, Tomlin struggled to locate his pitches against De Aza and Beckham, who both reached. Wisely, Acta called for the pitching change, bringing Dan Wheeler out of the bullpen, but he wouldn’t record a single pitch because of an hour and 25-minute rain delay.
Act Three: The Big Finale
After the rain delay Joe Smith ultimately faced the next batter, Alex Rios, who took a 3-1 fastball that was up in the zone, tying the game with a single. Now, runners are on the corners with one out and Tomlin is a sac fly away from being in line for the loss. Dunn works the count full, in an at-bat where both sides were unhappy with the strike zone. With a weak check-swing roller to the mound, Dunn grounded into the inning-ending 1-6-3 double play. While Smith allowed one of the inherited runners to score, it was imperative for him to keep the Sox from taking the lead; and like the Bullpen Mafia has done all year, they got the job done.
In the bottom of the inning Duncan was the headline hero of the game, with his sharp double to left on a tailing fastball from former Chicago closer Matt Thornton. However, a closer look at the game shows that the Tribe lineup did it as a whole in this game. All the hitters worked the count, and Marson, Brantley, and Duncan all deserve a piece of the offensive game ball.
But, none of it would’ve mattered if Tony Sipp wasn’t able to shut the door for his first save of the season. After retiring the first two hitters, Sipp worked around pinch-hitter Paul Konerko, so much so that he reached base on a five-pitch walk. Not to be deterred, Sipp promptly struck out Flowers on three pitches (one a LONG fly to left that just hooked foul and would have been a two-run homer) to end the game and give the Tribe a sweep of the doubleheader.
The MVP: Josh Tomlin, with his career-high eight strikeouts, and 7 and 1/3 innings pitched of two-run ball. Sure, he did it against Chicago’s B-lineup, but still, the way he pitched has to excite Tribe fans. Plus, he gave the Tribe their seventh straight start of six innings pitched or more.
Unsung Heroes Award: To the lower-ranking members of the bullpen, who stepped up on Monday with Perez and Pestano unavailable. This team has at least three guys (Perez, Pestano, and Hagadone) who can close games out, a highly rare commodity that will bode well later in the season, when consecutive days pitched, injuries, or doubleheaders come along.
Clutch Play of the Game: In the top of the 8th, with runners on the corners and one out, Joe Smith induced an enormously significant 1-6-3 double play off the bat of Adam Dunn to douse the Chicago rally. With a full count and the game on the line, this play represented the most pivotal point in the game, as it kept the game tied, and kept Tomlin off the hook for a potential loss.
Key Point Not in the Box Score: After two quick outs to start the bottom of the 5th, light-hitting Lou Marson worked a six-pitch walk. On the first pitch to Brantley, Marson broke for second base on first movement, forcing the catcher, Flowers, to fumble the ball during his transfer. The stolen base, Marson’s first of the year, turned out to be highly meaningful, as Brantley slapped a breaking ball to right field, to jumpstart the two-out, two run rally. This was the perfect call from the dugout, since the teams had been, up to that point, locked in a pitchers’ duel; Acta deserves a lot of praise for this shrewd, gutsy call.
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As for how the org feels about Bryson, Price, etc....those guys are depth relievers at this point. Shows just how hard it is to crack into the big leagues. All of them may get a shot at some point, but I don't see any of them being on the Major League radar this season. Too many guys in front of them.
Tony, what's the feeling in the organization on some of the pitchers in AA, Bryson, Price, or even Wright and his knuckleball? Are they looked at as big-league options this year? I thought Bryson was always well-regarded when healthy, so I don't get why they have him stashed in Akron still, and Price has mostly performed well for the past 2 years other than a bad game every now and then. They have to live with Sipp, but I don't see why they're living with both Wheeler and Acensio. Even Herrmann had his moments last year
Hagadone came in allowing only 3 hits in 7 innings. I think Acta feels it's time to put him in a pressure situation and see how he responds.
Now Pestano and Perez are ready for the last two games while Thornton threw a lot of pitches last night. They still have Sale, though.
I'm still miffed why Acta, in a doubleheader no less, made the decision not to throw both Perez and Pestano. That's mindboggling. To simply take your two best relievers out of the equation for two games. He's lucky that Hagadone and Sipp came through and it worked out, but it could have easily blown up on him. Saying Pestano was not available would have been fine as he pitched all three games of the Texas series, so he definitely needed a day off. But you have to stagger your two backend guys and not just shut them both down in the same game. Perez did not pitch on Saturday....and while he had pitched 4 of the last 5 games, he should have been available to pitch yesterday and then not be available tonight when pestano would then be available.
Great to see Pronk playing both games of a doubleheader. How many years has it been since he's been able to do that?
Joe Smith made a huge pitch to get that double play ball by Dunn. Duncan and Kotchman have been all but useless at the plate but they came through with doubles when needed. Every game somebody different is stepping up. Zach McAlister is another example, and also Hagadone and Sipp coming in to close with C. Perez getting the day off.
It's a real team effort, not just a few stars carrying the whole load. A very fun team to watch right now.