Put yourself in my shoes early Saturday afternoon in Cleveland. It’s a beautiful day, my wife and I took our children for a walk and then worked in the yard while the kids played outside. After months of horrible weather, spring is here and baseball is with it. While the Indians were only playing .500 ball, they had tremendous starting pitching in three of the first four games and they had the defending Cy Young award winner going today. If you had told me the Indians would score six runs with Kluber starting today, I would tell you that the beautiful day was only going to get better because that’s a sure victory.
Boy was I wrong.
Things got off to a rocky start when Anthony Gose opened the game with a home run off Kluber. While that could have been seen as an aberration, it obviously wasn’t as Kluber allowed four more hits in the inning while Detroit took a 2-0 lead. From there Tigers pitcher David Price, a former Cy Young Award winner himself, proceeded to hold the Indians scoreless through six innings. While Kluber battled, and struck out ten batters while allowing seven hits, it seemed as though a low-scoring Tigers win was on the horizon.
The baseball gods decided to tease me a bit though as the Tribe fought back to take a brief 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Mike Aviles scored on a deep sacrifice fly by Ryan Raburn, and future MVP Jerry Sands doubled in Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes as the Tribe took the lead.
Unfortunately, this was one of the rare days where the bullpen was not up to the job. After Kluber got the first out of the seventh inning, Marc Rzepczynski relieved and gave up a hit and a walk without getting an out. Bryan Shaw relieved him and was even worse. After getting the second out of the inning, Shaw allowed three straight hits and Detroit came back to take a 5-3 lead.
To their credit, the Tribe’s hitters didn’t let this deflate them. Sands continued his dominant game that we all saw coming by doubling home Santana and Brandon Moss to tie the game at five. At this point it seemed that all the Indians had to do was get back to Sands in the bottom of the ninth and the game would be theirs.
The Tigers had other plans though. They quickly loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the ninth before the Indians were able to secure two outs without allowing a runner to score. Unfortunately what happened during the second out may wind up being far worse than any one loss. As Rajai Davis came home, Yan Gomes was able to get the out by keeping his leg back on the plate as he caught the throw home (sort of like the way a first baseman catches for an out). However, as Davis slid, he hit Gomes’s leg in a way that caused it to bend in an awkward manner. Gomes immediately went down and had to be carried off the field. As any Indians fan knows, Gomes is a huge contributor to this team with his bat as well as his defense and game-calling abilities, and if he misses significant time it will undoubtedly make it much harder for the Indians to get off to the kind of start they will need to compete in the tough Central Division.
The Gomes injury seemed to take the energy out of the Indians (and this writer). In the blink of an eye it was 8-5 and the bases were still loaded. After Kyle Crockett poured a little more salt on the wounds by walking in another run, the inning mercifully ended. The Indians did score one more run in the bottom of the ninth when Jason Kipnis singled in Mike Aviles, but this time the rally fell short and the Tigers triumphed 9-6 in the second-longest nine inning game in Indians history.
While one loss in a 162 season is no reason to sound the alarm, there are some reasons to be concerned, on a baseball side, if Gomes is forced to miss significant time that is an enormous loss for the Tribe. A case could be made that Gomes is the Indians’ best player after Kluber and Michael Brantley, and with Brantley’s back bothering him, they cannot afford any more injuries. The other thing that is beyond the Indians’ control is the way they play when there is a buzz surrounding the team. After most of the national media praised them in the preseason and a 2-1 road trip to start the year, fans were as excited about the team as they’d been since the playoff run in September of 2013. While there is no doubt that the players and coaching staff always give their best effort, the team just seems to lose the games that would seemingly help boost their fan interest and attendance. As a Tribe fan who is a bit disgusted with the double standard given to the Browns, I’d love to see the city get behind this team, but losing the first home games of the year to their biggest division rival is the exact opposite of what the Indians needed to do. Hopefully they turn it around tomorrow, and get back to .500. This is a first class group of players and they deserve all of the success predicted for them.