It’s baseball a wonderfully weird game?
In how many other sports could a role player, a relatively unknown journeyman, be the big story in an important team win? I know Jerry Sands isn’t a great baseball player (relative to the Major Leagues, of course), but it sure seems like he finds a way to make a big impact in every game he plays. On Saturday night, fresh off a recent call-up, Sands blasted a 2-run home run into the Seattle bullpen to provide the winning margin in a 4-3 win for the Tribe.
This game featured two players that I love to root for: Sands and Shaun Marcum. Marcum is the Indians de facto 5th starter, though his pedigree probably suggests he should be something more. Alas, injuries and Father Time don’t care about pedigree, and Marcum finds himself at the tail end of a Cleveland rotation that did not plan on needing him. Marcum has already had his ups and downs in three starts – a brilliant debut and a disastrous follow-up, but this game was somewhere in the middle. Marcum pitched a decent game, leaving after only 5.1 innings, and he walked three hitters, but he did enough to keep the Indians in front and he was rewarded with his second win of the season.
It’s probably normal to not care about 5th starters – they’re an interchangeable piece on most rosters, and many guys probably inspire more fan ire than respect in that role. Marcum, however, is a special case, and he’s a guy you want to see succeed because of his injuries and the road he took back to the majors. Marcum reminds me a lot of another Indians 5th starter that I grew to love: Scott Elarton.
Many fans probably remember Elarton – he was a guy plucked off the Rockies organization after being DFA’d for awful performance. The 2004 Indians, not exactly teeming with Championship aspirations, installed Elarton as their 5th starter, and he proved to be an important cog in the wheel throughout 2004 and 2005 (a season that saw the Indians BARELY miss the playoffs). The fact that Elarton would parlay his success into a big contract and utterly disastrous tenure with the Royals means nothing to me – I will always remember the fun I had rooting for Elarton to succeed every 5th day for two seasons.
In many ways, I root for Marcum in the same way. He’s a proven major league pitcher trying to make his way back into a rotation after injuries. No one expects too much of him, but I root for him every 5th day. That isn’t to say I don’t root for TJ House or whoever else occupies that 5th spot, but I think with Marcum we can see the potential that is there — potential to be more than a 5th starter, potential to be a folk hero in Cleveland if the Indians catch fire over the summer (as they are wont to do with Terry Francona at the helm).
Games like Saturday night, where the pitching looked great, and the offense did enough to win, are going to be the hallmark of the 2015 season. Will we get enough, will we do it often enough? If Jerry Sands continues to have his moments, and Shaun Marcum continues to put together decent starts, there’s a chance.