When a winning streak gets into double digits, nobody wants to be the one to snap it. After watching the 9th inning of the Indians win over the Braves on Tuesday night, I got the feeling the Baseball Gods don’t want the streak to end either.
The Tribe wasted no time getting down to business, scoring two runs in the first inning. Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez hit a trio of singles to manufacture the first run the old-fashioned way. Run Number Two came on a double steal. Ramirez stole second and, when Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski made a lousy throw to try and throw him out, Lindor became the 5th player to steal home this season.
Starting pitcher Corey Kluber pitched a fine game, giving up just two earned runs on three hits, with one walk and seven strikeouts. He was incredibly efficient, throwing only 87 pitches over eight full innings. His only problems came in the 6th, when he gave up back-to-back singles to Erick Aybar and Emilio Bonifacio. Braves pitcher Matt Wisler then advanced the runners to 2nd and 3rd with a sacrifice bunt. Kluber managed a lovely strikeout of Jace Peterson on a series of breaking balls, and for a second there it looked like he’d keep his shutout. A two-out, two-run single by Ender Inciarte tied the game, but that was apparently all the Baseball Gods would allow. Instead of stopping at first, Inciarte tried to stretch it for extra bases and was tagged out in a run-down by Francisco Lindor to end the inning.
This was generally a quiet game, but my oh my, the 9th inning made up for it. My fingernails will never be the same. Atlanta reliever Arodys Vicaino came on to pitch the 9th and promptly walked Tyler Naquin and Juan Uribe. Michael Martinez came in to pinch hit for Corey Kluber, which was a little surprising. Martinez foul bunted the first two pitches and was then called out on strikes. Kluber has shown he can sacrifice bunt with the best of them. He could have stayed in and tried for a complete game. Nonetheless, the Indians now had one out with runners on 2nd and 3rd in a 2-2 ballgame.
Now some people say clutch hitting doesn’t exist–you either hit consistently or you don’t. Carlos Santana has made a believer out of me. He came to bat and patiently ran it to a 3-1 count before delivering a base hit to drive in the go-ahead run. Francisco Lindor added another run when he reached base on an error by Braves’ shortstop Erick Aybar. Just to add a little extra insurance, Ramirez (who had two stolen bases on the night and has now batted in every spot in the order) singled to score Santana, making it a 5-2 ballgame.
Cody Allen came in to pitch the 9th for the Indians. He struck out the first batter then gave up a solo home run to Jace Peterson, making the score 5-3. Then things got weird. Ender Inciarte hit a grounder to Santana at first. Santana bobbled it but managed to toss it to Allen, who was covering the bag. It was a close enough play that it truly could have gone either way. The first base umpire ruled it an out. The Braves challenged the call, but it was upheld. This understandably ticked off the Braves bench, so much so that Jeff Francoeur was ejected for throwing a batting helmet onto the field and arguing the call. “Jeff Francoeur?” you ask. “But he hasn’t even played in this series.” No, he hasn’t. But when the Baseball Gods are messing with you, you can get thrown out of a game you aren’t even playing in.
Once the dust had settled, Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman came to bat and slammed a triple into deep center. For a minute there, it was as though the Baseball Gods were trying to decide if they really wanted the Indians’ winning streak to continue or not.
They did. Nick Markakis flied out to end the game, giving the Indians a 5-3 win. This streak goes to 11.