As I’m sure I’ve complained about on here in the past, the one thing I want to check off of my bucket list is to attend a no-hitter. The closest I’ve ever come was a Sunday night game against the St. Louis Cardinals in June of 2009, where Cliff Lee took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Other than that, I’ve never really come close. So I often think about which pitcher on the Indians roster is even a threat to pitch a no-no, whether I’m going to the game or not. There are days where I think Corey Kluber could pull it off, or perhaps Trevor Bauer with a bit more seasoning. Justin Masterson (but more the circa 2011 version) is another potential candidate. Probably one of the last people I’d ever consider is Josh Tomlin (I might have put Ryan Raburn ahead of him) – but he came closer tonight than any of those other guys over the past few seasons.
I’m not even saying that to necessarily disrespect Josh Tomlin. His strength as a pitcher is to accurately paint the zone; to throw strikes and let the hitters put the ball in play. Every so often he’ll leave one over the plate, or a hit will be well-placed enough to get past the defense. I could even expect a low scoring game from him every now and again, because he typically keeps his cool during stressful situations. But the zero walks and 11 strikeouts; the completely game shutout with just one run surrendered – I don’t think I ever saw that coming.
Part of the reason I was down on Tomlin was due to his past few starts. I try not to hold grudges; life is too short to let something hang over your head and continue to annoy you. But I still haven’t been able to let go of last Sunday’s game against the Tigers. Maybe it’s because our seats were in the sun, and I was hot, sweating, and a little sunburned as an obnoxious Detroit fan screamed repeatedly in my ear behind me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t like the idea of paying good money to essentially watch Tomlin throw batting practice against the Tigers’ lineup. At one point I was ranting and raving and I yelled, “And I don’t care if I ever see Tomlin pitch again. They can strand him on an island somewhere for all I care.” Even tonight, during the first few innings of the game I was still thinking about that stupid game last weekend. So perhaps this should serve as a reminder to let things go and move on. I automatically figured that tonight would be a disaster, simply because last Sunday was a disaster. I was so cranky earlier this evening, that if I wasn’t scheduled to write about this game tonight, I may have just gone to bed early. And missing this game, and not appreciating the excellent, historic performance we saw on the mound, would have been a darn shame. Even though I’m still working on my Nick Swisher-related anger (I’m not perfect), I learned a valuable lesson tonight about not writing a game off before it even starts.
The crazy thing about this game is that Tomlin was so good, some of the other great moments were overshadowed. Like Ryan Raburn’s diving catch in the second inning, that saved at least a double from the pesky Kyle Seager. After the way he’s just destroyed Indians pitching, I made sure to scream “suck it, Seager” at the television after the catch, because I’m an adult. Seager paid me back (because of course he did) when he singled in the fifth inning to notch the Mariners’ only hit of the game. Tomlin faced just 28 batters tonight, obviously just one over the minimum. Without (explicative deleted) Seager’s hit, Tomlin would have had a perfect game. Props to the Indians defense for not being their normal selves, because I figured a routine grounder right between the legs was what would stand between a pitcher and perfection on the 2014 Tribe.
As for the offense, they did their job. They got just seven hits, but managed to score five runs; with this level of efficiency they stranded just two runners on base. And what was nice about those seven hits is that they were spread among the players fairly evenly – the only three in the lineup without a hit tonight were Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher (I’m shocked!), and Ryan Raburn. And Kipnis still managed to get on base twice with two walks. I thought it was going to be another extraordinarily frustrating night after the first inning. Michael Bourn led off the game with a ground-out, but then Asdrubal Cabrera doubled. Michael Brantley singled, scoring Cabrera and making it to second on the throw home. Carlos Santana followed with a double that brought Brantley home, followed by a Jason Kipnis walk. So it’s already 2-0, there’s just one out, and you have runners on first and second. With some of the hard hit balls we’d already seen in the top of the first, this seemed like a prime opportunity to bust the game over. However, Yan Gomes promptly grounded into an inning-ending double play. I kept thinking that was going to come back to bite the Indians, but the way that Tomlin was pitching, those two runs were already plenty. The Indians plated another pair in the top of the fifth inning – a Mike Aviles single was followed by a Michael Bourn double (he would later take third on a balk by Seattle pitcher Roenis Elias). Bourn scored on an Asdrubal Cabrera sacrifice fly, so at least he was able to get the job done.
Yan Gomes got a chance at redemption from his first inning blunder at the plate, with a bit of an assist from Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon. In the top of the sixth inning, Gomes had a pop foul near the Mariners first base dugout, dangerously close to where McClendon was leaning on the dugout railing. As catcher Mike Zunino went to catch the ball, McClendon didn’t really make a great effort to get out of his way. Then after the missed catch, McClendon seemed to laugh about the whole thing, while Zunino tried to murder him with his eyes, like some kind of demented baseball Basilisk. (Harry Potter in the house!) Gomes embraced his second chance and promptly hit the ball over the outfield wall to make it 5-0 Indians. Maybe McClendon just realized that with the way Tomlin was pitching, four runs was already pretty insurmountable…what was one more at that point? Still probably not an appropriate attitude to take if you’re the opposing manager. I laughed (duh, I’m an Indians fan), in part because I’m still amused about the game in June of 2001 when McClendon “stole first” as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Angered by a call at first, McClendon eventually popped the base out of the ground and walked off the field with it, almost nonchalantly, as he said something along the lines of “Well, if you’re not going to use this, I’m just going to take it.” It’s still listed as one of the best sports meltdowns of all time. Another McClendon fun fact you may not remember – he actually signed with the Indians on a minor league deal in 1995, but didn’t make the team out of spring training and reported to Buffalo. He officially retired after the season.
I think this was an important win, not just because they’ve been kind of few and far between lately. When you’re set to face Felix Hernandez the next day, with an offense that has been scuffling lately, it probably helps to head into the game with a bit of a confidence boost and a win under your belt. The Indians face some tough pitching in Los Angeles against the Dodgers starting Monday, so it’s not like this is necessarily getting easier any time soon.