Second Thoughts Game #43: Mariners 8, Indians 10
For the second time in as many weeks, the Indians put themselves in a position to sweep an ever-difficult four-game series. In a game where their starter got through just three innings and their three impenetrable backend relievers all faltered, naturally, they pulled it out. In game-winning fashion. Again.
Kazmir takes a step backwards
For a team whose biggest question mark coming into the season was starting pitching, Indians fans have been spoiled by a strong stretch of quality work in recent weeks. Scott Kazmir was unable to continue that trend in Monday's finale.
It was pretty evident early on that he had no feel for his command. He threw too many mislocated fastballs, either out of the zone or right over the plate. After a pair of terrible two-out pitches (one an 0-2 pitch) in the first inning, I wondered why he wasn't throwing more of his secondary offerings. Only 19 of his 63 pitches were non-fastballs, and he threw 13 of those for strikes. Only 22 of the 44 fastballs were strikes, and a good portion of them were of the put-in-play variety. In fairness, a couple of his sliders got lined up, too. His velocity was fine, though, so that's something.
My biggest takeaway from this outing actually had more to do with Terry Francona and less to do with Kazmir. After watching his starter allow four runs through the first three innings and let the first two hitters in the fourth reach, Francona decided to turn it over to his bullpen for at least six innings. He recognized that Kazmir didn't have it and wasn't afraid to take the risk. That's why he gets paid the big bucks.
Continual timely responses
Time and time again in this contest, Indians pitchers gave up a lead. And time and time again, their offensive friends gave it back to them, or at least evened the score.
Early on, it was against an excellent starter in Hisashi Iwakuma. He throws about as many strikes as anyone and gets hitters to either miss or bury his splitter when he is ahead in the count. But they quickly learned to spit on the split, and he found himself behind in counts and laboring. With that, more fastballs came and what splitters he did throw rose in the zone. Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley all showed their appreciation at various points during his six innings.
Later in the game, it was more about the little things and opportunities due to poor defense than stellar offense - a walk or two here, a blooper there, maybe a productive out or a hustle play. But the lineup still did what they needed to do to answer the call every time. For a team put together in part by $120 million over the winter and that leads the world in home runs, they can still scrap and claw when all isn't perfect and scoring isn't so easy.
The (surprising) tale of two bullpens
When Kazmir went just 3.0 innings, the thought process of Indians fans and probably Francona alike, was, find a way to stay in the game with the middle of the bullpen and eventually get the ball to Joe Smith/Vinnie Pestano/Chris Perez.
Well, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw combined to pick their starter up rather well: 4.0 innings, two baserunners, five strikeouts and no damage. Albers did allow a run charged to Kazmir and was helped by two impressive defensive plays in the fourth, but I digress.
As for Smith, Pestano and Perez, all three of them were called upon - almost always a positive sign for how a game is playing out for the Indians. This was an astronomically-rare occasion to the contrary, however. Pestano came in with a one-run lead: gave it up. Perez came in with the score tied: untied it. Smith come in with the score tied: untied it. Hard to figure, and something no one ever expects to see from them, collectively, but it happened. Nothing to worry about.
Gomes is the epitome of the 2013 Cleveland Indians
Are you ready for this? I'm going to completely downplay 3-for-5, one home run early and one that ended the game.
Gomes did more than that in this game, and it speaks to a number of different wonderful developments - not just with Gomes, individually, but with the team, as a whole.
Defensively, he has been a revelation. He thwarted two of four would-be Mariners stealers in this game, and has now turned away seven of 11 in limited duty. If he qualified in terms of innings played, that percentage (63.6) would be first, by a lot. The quickness of his footwork and with which he gets out of his crouch, transfers and releases the ball is incredible.
His catcher earned run average is a very respectable 3.36 (Marson, in very limited work, 3.86; Santana, 4.19). Keep in mind that his defense was supposed to be an absolute deterrent, and something that would require vast improvement before he could catch at the Major League level. Like the Indians' infield defense as a whole so far, he has surprised, and in grand fashion.
Also, keep in mind that Gomes is a backup. One of the consistent four that has been tagged in often, and that has performed in a way that falls in line with the starters when they aren't available. Good teams don't just need depth; they need capable depth. It's there.
Lastly, simply how he was made to be a Cleveland Indian is a clear theme for this 2013 bunch so far. Chris Antonetti and company's offseason was, in a word, productive. The additions have helped elevate this team exponentially, and even with the massive (for this organization) discounted free-agent spending in mind, the Gomes and Mike Aviles trade might just turn out to be the front office's best value of the campaign.
Speed doesn't kill - it premeditatedly murders
The additions of Michael Bourn's and Drew Stubbs' legs have already paid dozens of dividends for this team. In Monday's game, the threat of both beared down on the mind of a defender and made an impact late.
With runners on first and third in a tied seventh inning, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a nubber back to Yoervis Medina. Bourn, running on contact from third, made him reconsider trying to make the play at home, he turned to first, lost the ball and retired no one. Indians lead.
In the at-bat leading up to Gomes' walkoff three-pointer, Stubbs pushed a bunt to the right side in an attempt to advance Brantley into scoring position. Charlie Furbush booted the corral, recovered and flipped to first, where the ball was not received cleanly. That put the winning run on base and helped set up the eventual party at home plate.
Up next: A battle between the classes of the division, as the Tigers travel to Cleveland. Corey Kluber and Ubaldo Jimenez are scheduled to go in the quick two-game set.