It took thirteen innings to do it, but the Indians managed to beat the Houston Astros on Thursday, 2-1.
Tribe starter Danny Salazar had a fine outing, giving up only one run in 7 1/3 innings. He gave up five hits, walked one, and struck out nine. But Astros starter Scott Feldman was even better, blanking the Tribe through the first eight innings.
The Indians finally got on the board in the ninth, when Michael Bourn opened the inning with a deep fly ball to left center. Once the ball hit the ground and bounced up, Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler lost track of it. The ball apparently went behind a column at the wall for all of two seconds before falling to the warning track. Even though the ball was inches away from Fowler’s feet, he made a big show of being unable to find it, as though it had been swallowed up by the earth or something. With no signal from an umpire telling him not to, Bourn kept running after he rounded second, and crossed the plate with an apparent inside-the-park home run. An umpire walked over to the ball and picked it up, as if to admonish Fowler. But the Astros appealed the play, and were upheld. Bourn was forced to return to second base with a ground-rule double. After advancing to third on a bunt single by Jose Ramirez, Bourn was thrown out at the plate while trying to advance on Michael Brantley‘s infield grounder. But Carlos Santana came through with a one-out single, scoring Ramirez and tying the game.
The Indians bullpen did a great job, with the exception of C.C. Lee, who threw seven pitches, six of them balls, before being removed with a 2-0 count on his second batter. I questioned Tito Francona‘s judgement for using Lee in the 12th inning of a tied road game to begin with, but to his credit, he quickly realized that Lee was not sharp, and pulled him before he could allow the Astros to get another baserunner. Lee was replaced by Kyle Crockett, who got the win when Mike Aviles, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth, drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly in the 13th. Cody Allen closed out the game with his 22nd save of the season.
Speaking of questioning Francona’s judgement, I’m puzzled by his decision to start J.B. Shuck in right field. Since being acquired by the Los Angeles Angels two weeks ago, Shuck had gone hitless in 13 at-bats. In fact, as Stephanie pointed out on Twitter, Shuck hadn’t even reached base at all as a member of the Tribe. And he didn’t do so on Thursday, either, going 0 for 3 before being removed for a pinch-hitter in the 10th. I know I’m just a lowly library media tech, but I’m pretty sure I would not have given Shuck three at-bats in a must-win game.
But hey, the Indians won. They gained a half-game over idle Detroit and Kansas City in the AL Central race, and are four games back in the AL wild card race. The Indians now move on to Minnesota for a three-game series with the Twins before coming back home to finish the season with games versus the Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays. Let’s hope that Trevor Bauer can keep the streak of great starting pitching going. And let’s hope, too, that the offense can find a way to put some gosh-darned runs on the board.