I wish I could have sat around and done nothing but watch baseball games today. With the staggered start times, you could theoretically spend about 12 straight hours watching an endless stream of various games. After a long, cold winter, you just crave meaningful baseball games (as much fun as it can be to watch spring training). Alas, I did not have time for that. I did manage to watch one and a half games today – this Indians and Oakland match-up, and half of the Pirates-Cubs game this afternoon. Both were similar in several ways – pitching duels by the starters that would eventually be left to the bullpens. Which bullpen would blink first as these 0-0 games progressed into the final innings? In the Indians’ case, they relied on some timely hitting, the fact that they seem to have Jim Johnson’s number, and a very costly Oakland base running blunder.
Right out of the gate, the Indians started to batter Oakland starter Sonny Gray. They made him work and caused him to throw nearly 30 pitches in the first frame alone. The problem was that the Indians would get runners on, get runners in scoring position. Then they wouldn’t score. And it happened this way over and over again – they stranded 11 base runners and went just 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position. In frustration, I repeatedly watched the Beavis and Butthead “We’re never gonna score” video (skip to around the 1:10 mark) just because I found myself yelling at the television “WE’RE NEVER GONNA SCORE.” (Look, it’s late and I’ve had a long day).
By the time the game reached the eighth inning, still knotted at 0-0, the starters had departed. Gray had some shaky moments, but he only gave up five hits and three walks, striking out seven over six innings pitched. Masterson was even tougher – just three hits and one walk, striking out four over seven innings (in which he threw just 92 pitches). His only bumpy inning was in the sixth, where he gave up a walk, a single, and had a wild pitch, leaving runners on second and third with just one out. He got Jed Lowrie to ground out and Brandon Moss to fly out to escape damage.
The really pivotal parts of this game came in the bottom of the eighth and the top of the ninth innings. A lot of attention has been given to the A’s, and their baffling base running blunder in the eighth. I don’t want to take away from the importance of Nyjer Morgan’s role in that play, because his hustle and quick actions were really just as important as Oakland’s brain fart. With runners on first and second and just one out, Josh Donaldson literally clobbered a Cody Allen pitch to very deep center field. As soon as it left the bat, I said “Oh crap” because it seemed like it was one of those “no doubter” home runs. It wasn’t though – it ended up hitting off the top of the wall. Morgan hustled to the wall and played it perfectly; he quickly got the ball in and ended up holding Donaldson to an extremely long single. Daric Barton, the lead runner, should have easily scored on that play. For some reason, he never made it past third base. Allen still wasn’t out of the woods, since the bases were loaded and there was still just one out. He buckled down and retired Lowrie and Moss, much like Masterson did in the sixth inning.
New Oakland closer Jim Johnson entered into the top of the ninth, hoping to maintain the 0-0 score so his teammates could attempt a walk-off in the bottom of the inning. I know that traditional knowledge says that you go to your closer in the ninth in a tie game. I’m wondering why Bob Melvin did this with Johnson’s career stats against the Indians. (Trust me, I’m not complaining…just curious). Coming into this game, the Indians were hitting .333/.429/.424 lifetime off of Johnson, and he’s 0-5 with a 5.63 ERA against them. After a walk, a single by David Murphy (a redemption of sorts, compared to his poor at-bats earlier in the evening) and a hit-by-pitch of Yan Gomes, the bases were loaded with nobody out. Morgan hit a sacrifice fly RBI, and Nick Swisher singled for the Indians’ second run.
Even though John Axford threw more balls than I would have liked during his Indians debut, he got the job done and closed out the win 2-0. True story: for the past couple of months, my husband has asked me who was replacing Chris Perez as closer at least once a week. “John Axford,” I’d reply (every single time) and he’d ask “Who’s that?” (every single time). So when Axford was finally entering the game at approximately 1:20 a.m., what do I do? Of course I go and wake my husband to tell him, mostly because I’m a jerk. He actually sat up, seemed to get excited, and then laid down and went right back to sleep. It may have been the first time in history that someone sleptwalk (slept sit-up?) excitement for a John Axford appearance. I don’t know why I’m even adding this into the post, except to say that I’m tired, it’s 2 a.m. and it’s been a long day.
I’d like to end my thoughts on this game by talking about Nyjer Morgan. Because my thoughts on Morgan tonight, really dovetail with the thoughts I had on him in spring training. There was nothing spectacular in his numbers while he was in Goodyear – he finished the spring with a .208/.333/.292 line and 0 home runs. However, there was just something about his presence. To the naked eye, it looked like he was hustling and working ten times as hard as the other players around him. Morgan’s uniform (perfectly clean before the game) was often filthy, from sliding, diving…who knows what. It just seemed like he was getting more results than he actually was – I was surprised to see how low some of his numbers were. Morgan just always appeared to be in the middle of everything important. Then what happens tonight? Morgan’s hustle puts him into the middle of that Donaldson looong single, and he gets the go-ahead sac fly in the ninth. You look at the box score, and he went 0 for 2 with a walk…yet there he was, every time there was a pivotal moment.
I’m not sure how long Morgan will have a spot on this roster, particularly when Michael Bourn comes off of the DL. But you can see how bad he wants to be there, almost like he’s willing himself into important moments to prove that he belongs back in the majors. Morgan also seems to have a good rapport with the rest of the team – when I was in Arizona in mid-March, he already appeared to fit in like he was a long-lost friend. Tonight, when he was being interviewed on television post-game, you could hear his teammates chanting “Mor-gan, Mor-gan” in the background as he smiled and laughed. Perhaps I’m biased, because I’ve had a soft spot for Morgan since his days with the Pirates, but I’m really rooting for him to stick around. I can’t remember the last time I thought so highly of an 0-2 performance, or the last time I had so much fun watching one.