I always hate when the Yankees and Red Sox visit Progressive Field, and I usually try to avoid those games like the plague most years. There are tons of people being loud and obnoxious, Indians fans are usually outnumbered (or close to it), and many times the bad behavior devolves into a fight. Why put myself through the annoyance, when there are tons of other games I could attend instead? I was set to continue the tradition this year (I’d already missed the Red Sox’s visit to town) when I realized I had tickets to tonight’s game. I have a Saturday-Sunday partial season ticket plan, but there’s always one random weeknight game thrown in per season. It was my luck (sarcasm) that tonight was that night. I almost traded the tickets in, but my husband is a Yankees “fan” and wanted to hop on the “Goodbye Derek Jeter” train before it left the station. So I ended up spending five hours at Progressive Field tonight, which (as I’m sure you saw) did not end well. Couple that with the fact I had some regrets about going in the first place, and that I was tired and cranky and surrounded by inebriated Yankees fans; it’s not a recipe for a fun evening. Or a recipe for a good mood after a bad loss.
The reason I put “fan” in quotes in regards to my husband is that he’s never been a huge baseball fan. I don’t think he’d ever seen a professional baseball game by the time he left to attend college in New York in the 1990s. It was the dynasty years of the Yankees, and his friends got him interested in the game, and the Bronx Bombers. I think he stays somewhat interested more out of an attempt to show some interest for my personal obsession. He doesn’t know much about the game, and often asks a lot of more basic questions (I’m not criticizing, I’m just explaining to set you up for the next part of the story). Since the big guns of the 1990s left (Paul O’Neill was his favorite player) he’s drifted away and knows very little about the current roster, or even pre-1990s Yankees players for that matter. He doesn’t really follow the Indians much (or go to many games) outside of living with me and being held hostage to my various rants from time to time.
So why did I go through this huge, somewhat tedious, explanation of his fandom and feelings about baseball? Because after Vinnie Pestano surrendered the go-ahead home run to Jacoby Ellsbury in the 14th inning (right before the second seventh inning stretch), my husband turns to me and goes “Why did Francona leave him in to pitch to a left-hander?” This is someone who gets only the more broad and basic points of baseball; he doesn’t pay much attention to statistics and more nuanced topics. Yet even he recognized that it’s just asking for trouble to have Pestano pitch to a lefty (especially a decent-hitting lefty). The only answer I could give was, “Who else was left in the bullpen?” At that point, you have Kyle Crockett and Carlos Carrasco, but they both pitched a fair amount of innings on Monday. If he left Marc Rzepcynski in the game for yet another inning, with the same outcome, we probably would have been questioning why he left him in. It was the 14th inning, and you do what you can with the resources left available to you. It’s worth pointing out though that righties are hitting .227/.261/.445 with 1 home run (coming into tonight) against Pestano, while lefties are hitting .545/.545/.727 with 0 home runs. So while he’d kept everything in the park against them up until tonight, it still was a disaster waiting to happen.
What was a shame about the outcome of this game, and I think the reason for my frustration (aside from the aforementioned reasons), is the fact that the bullpen was lights out until Pestano came into the game. Even on the couple of occasions they got into trouble, like Cody Allen in the top of the 10th inning, they managed to dance their way out of trouble and maintain a 4-4 tie. From the sixth inning on, the bullpen (with an additional two clean innings from Josh Tomlin) more than did their job. Tomlin made a few mistakes, and I also sincerely question the decision to pitch to Mark Teixeira in the fifth inning. It’s not like when you’re facing the Detroit lineup and you have to pick your poison between Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, or a red-hot J.D. Martinez. I wasn’t terrified by the idea of Tomlin facing Brian Roberts with two on and two out, and think it may have been a better idea to pitch around Teixeira and go after Roberts. Teixeira had already knocked a ball out in the fourth inning, to put the Yankees on the board and cut the Indians’ slim lead to 3-1. The very next inning, he got another opportunity at the plate and hit a two-run home run that put the Yankees ahead 4-3. The Indians tied it back up in the bottom of the inning, and it would stay locked at four until Ellsbury’s home run in the 14th. It was a decent enough start by Tomlin; he made a few mistakes, but kept the game well within reach. What had me ready to beat my head against the seat in front of me, was once again, the offense.
The Indians managed to put up a quick three unearned runs against the Yankees in the first inning, off of their new acquisition, Brandon McCarthy. But then they let the Yankees chip their way back into the game without adding to their lead. Granted, McCarthy’s advanced statistics say he is better than the 5.00+ ERA he put up in Arizona, but he’s had his share of struggles this season. While I was pleased the Indians took advantage of a Yankee error, they let McCarthy off the ropes. Their futility at the plate tonight wasn’t for lack of hits; every person in the lineup except for Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes had at least one hit. But the Tribe left 11 on base, and went just 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
By far, the most frustrating moment for me was the bottom of the tenth inning. Asdrubal Cabrera made the first out in the inning against Adam Warren. Then Joe Girardi went back to the bullpen, and out came familiar face David Huff. The mere site of Huff is enough to set off a Pavlovian response in my brain, where I immediately feel misery and dread. As he’s no longer the Indians’ problem (and because I know how he tends to look when pitching) I was actually pleased to see him for once. Even though I joke about Huff, he’s been a fairly solid option for the Yankees out of the pen – coming into tonight he had a 2.20 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 16.1 innings pitched. Huff is not dramatically better against lefties, but has somewhat better numbers – lefties hit .258/.303/.306 off of him, while righties hit .280/.366/.439. He was brought in to face Michael Brantley, but Brantley is a lefty that actually does well against left-handed pitching – he’s hitting .282/.370/.437, compared to .350/.401/.571 against righties. So even though you’re better off trying your luck with a lefty against him, Brantley still has a decent chance of success. Huff walked Brantley though. Then he walked the next batter, Carlos Santana. At this point there was a conference on the mound, and my husband was screaming “get him out of there” and threatening to go onto the field and pull Huff himself if he had to. But they left him in to pitch to Lonnie Chisenhall, and he walked him to load the bases.
At this point, the Yankees were almost trying to hand the game to the Indians on a silver platter. Just one out, and the opposing pitcher walks the bases loaded. A fly ball could win it for the Indians at this point. Next up was Nick Swisher, who would typically make me groan and feel dread. However, he’s been decent during this much of this series with the Yankees (perhaps they should try to convince him that all opponents are the Yankees from now on?) Swisher struck out against new reliever Shawn Kelley, leaving it all up to David Murphy. When he grounded out to the shortstop to end the inning, I wanted to scream. A 24 karat golden opportunity, and you waste it. After the walk to Chisenhall, a bunch of Yankee fans around me angrily got up and stormed out, fully expecting that was the end of the game. Obviously, they’d never seen the Indians’ offense blow great opportunities such as this all season. The Tribe had a few base runners after this, but no other opportunities that good. The Yankees have a couple of good pitchers in their bullpen, but they’d already pitched and exited the game. This left them with their weaker bullpen members (and closer David Robinson), and a bullpen that has already been taxed by starters that have had problems going deep into games. I thought the Indians may be able to get something going against Chase Whitley and his five-plus ERA, but in his two innings of work he allowed just one base runner – a single by Asdrubal Cabrera in the bottom of the twelfth. Granted this was Whitley’s first appearance out of the bullpen (he’d started games up until tonight) but in his last three outings he gave up 4 ER, 5 ER and 8 ER in just 4 innings or fewer. Yet the Indians manage just one hit.
If you’ve made it this far, you obviously realize that I needed to rant/ramble and get this game off my chest. It felt a little cathartic, but probably did not supply the level of satisfaction I saw from a young boy at the park after Michael Brantley made the final out of the game. As “Lost” from Coldplay started (it’s bad enough I see a loss, then I have to listen to Coldplay too) this kid takes off his Indians hat and throws it down on the ground in disgust. Then he jumps up and down on it repeatedly. So young, and yet he has already mastered the key emotions of frustration and anger involved with being an Indians fan.