For the first seven innings of this game, runs and hits were severely rationed. The Indians took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh, thanks to a two-run Jason Kipnis home run (with only four Tribe hits to that point). Starter Scott Kazmir took a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh inning, which was broken up by a lead-off double from Manny Machado. Machado went on to score an unearned run in that inning on a sacrifice fly from Chris Davis, but the Indians managed to cling to a 2-1 lead. After that point, the last two innings of this game were packed with so many twists and turns, I wasn’t sure if I was watching a ballgame or riding a roller coaster.
Things really started to get nuts in the bottom of the eighth. Scott Kazmir came out to the mound and started his warm-up tosses, as if he planned to stay in the game. Terry Francona and the trainer quickly came onto the field and removed Kazmir; Joe Smith started to warm up to take his place. What was so strange about this is that Kazmir didn’t seem to be in any visible physical distress on the mound. When he went to the dugout, he did not leave to go back into the clubhouse – he stayed in the dugout with the rest of the team. Typically, an injured player will go immediately back to the clubhouse to receive treatment, not stick around to watch the end of the game. Orioles manager Buck Showalter angrily came out of the Orioles dugout and argued with an umpire; obviously he seem bothered by something in this situation. My point in mentioning all of this isn’t to accuse Kazmir of faking an injury or anything (even though it seems that Showalter had his suspicions); it’s more to highlight my optimism that this may not be something serious. I immediately thought “maybe he cramped up?” when I saw the trainer and Francona remove Kazmir. It doesn’t sound serious based on post-game comments; I’d hate to see him miss time after two incredible starts in a row.
After Kazmir’s departure and Smith’s entry into the game, J.J. Hardy led off the inning with what was ruled a single. However, it was a play that probably should have been made – Hardy grounded to third, but something went wrong between Lonnie Chisenhall’s throw and Nick Swisher’s reception. Consider this the point where the roller coaster leaves the building and starts up that first hill. Smith got Nate McLouth to pop out, but then walked pinch hitter Chris Dickerson and allowed Alexi Casilla (one of last night’s villains) to single to load the bases. With the bases loaded and only one out, I started to become worried that our metaphorical roller coaster was going to descend into the abyss. A fielder’s choice allowed the tying run to score, but now it was first and third with two outs – the ride suddenly didn’t look as scary as it once did. Manny Machado, the same guy that ruined Kazmir’s no-hitter, singled to score the go-ahead run. Adam Jones popped out though, and suddenly the ride looked like it may be over – with a rather unsatisfying ending.
However, Jim Johnson hasn’t been quite as perfect as he was last year. He still leads the majors in saves, with 27, but tonight marked his fifth blown save of the year. Johnson only had three blown saves all of last year. He walked Michael Brantley, then gave up a double to Jason Giambi, and intentionally walked Carlos Santana. With the bases loaded and nobody out, it looked like the start of a wild ride for the Indians. The Indians tied the game on a fielder’s choice by Chisenhall, and took the lead on a fielder’s choice from Drew Stubbs. What’s notable about the Stubbs FC – he has yet to ground into a double play this year. For any other player, it probably would have been an inning-ending double play. With Stubbs’ speed, he manages to bail himself out of these types of sticky situations (last year he grounded into just two double plays all season, and also only grounded into two in 2011). It wasn’t quite as pretty as it could have been, but two runs are two runs – the Indians had pulled into the lead.
Over the past few weeks, the ninth inning for Indians’ closers has been its own wild ride. However, Vinnie Pestano made it look easy tonight, knocking out the Orioles 1-2-3. This game provoked a variety of emotions, but in the end happiness was the one that won out.
– I mentioned that this is Kazmir’s second great start in a row. What was so impressive about his performance tonight is that Baltimore has a pretty rough lineup; there are tons of guys that can hurt a pitcher. Chris Davis leads the majors in home runs (28), is second in the majors in RBI (73), and third in the AL in batting average (.330). Even if you’re able to neutralize him (which the Indians were successful in doing tonight and on Monday), you still have Manny Machado, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones. Plus Nate McLouth, Matt Weiters and J.J. Hardy can still burn you; heck, even guys like Alexi Casilla have moments like last night. To no-hit them through six innings, and to limit them to four hits is pretty impressive.
– The Indians were the only AL Central team to win tonight.
– Nick Swisher continues to struggle – he went 0 for 4 (bro for four) again tonight. Not sure if the injury is still nagging him, or if this is just one hell of a slump. If nothing else, he needs to be moved out of the clean-up hole and put down further in the lineup until something changes.
– Jason Kipnis continues to impress – He went 1 for 3 with the two-run home run and is hitting .408/.500/.632 so far in June.
– The series finale tomorrow has Corey Kluber going against Miguel Gonzalez. The Indians have seen Gonzalez twice before – he’s 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA, 1.455 WHIP against the Tribe. Both appearances came last year – on July 1 and July 20. Chris Perez is set to come off the DL tomorrow as well.