Three errors. Double plays that weren’t turned defensively. Batters chasing pitches out of the strike zone. A rare night when Danny Salazar was a bit off his game…It sure seemed like the Cleveland Indians were staring at a 4-game losing streak for the just first time in 2016.
Then Jonathan Papelbon took the hill. The Tribe would produce an incredible series of clutch, well-executed at bats, and pull off what may be their biggest walk-off win of the season in stunning fashion, knocking off the Nationals 7-6 in a dramatic comeback.
After Salazar was stung for a pair of first inning runs, Cleveland would tie the game 2-2 in the bottom of the first and take advantage of Gio Gonzalez’ wildness, as the southpaw threw strikes on only 3 of his first 14 pitches. Anthony Rendon would give the Nats a 4-2 lead with a home run off Salazar on an 0-2 pitch in the 4th inning.
Then the craziness began, as Tito Francona would squeeze every drop out of five relievers during the final five innings of play. The Tribe entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 6-4, but would get a key lead off walk from Jose Ramirez on a gritty 7-pitch at bat. Tyler Naquin–quickly becoming Mr. Clutch–would golf a 2-strike double into the gap in left center to score Ramirez. Chris Gimenez laid down what looked to be a sharp sacrifice bunt, but first baseman Ryan Zimmerman launched the ball wide of first base and into right field and Naquin scored on the error to tie the game 6-6. After an intentional walk to Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis looked to bunt the winning run into scoring position. However, with the wheel play on and the third baseman charging in aggressively, Davis would add some mustard to his bunt and hit it over the charging defender, loading the bases. After a Kipnis pop up to left field, Francisco Lindor would be the hero, lining a game-winning RBI single to right field to send a rowdy Progressive Field crowd home very happy.
KEY STATS AND GAME NOTES
Not This Time!: Entering Tuesday night, Jonathan Papelbon was 10/10 in save opportunities in his career against the Cleveland Indians. Not…so…fast.
*Papelbon’s Line Tuesday Night: 0.0 IP 2 H 3 R 2 ER 2 BB 0 SO. 18 pitches, 10 balls, 8 strikes.
First of Many: Francisco’s Lindor’s RBI single was the first walk-off hit of the young shortstop’s career. Expect many more walk-off hits to come.
New Set-up Man?: Dan Otero has now pitched eight consecutive scoreless innings in his last eight appearances, holding opponents to a microscopic .120 batting average during that span. With an ERA of 1.13, Otero has allowed just one home run in 4o innings of work, striking out 37 and walking just nine.
Naquin Uprising: With a .329 average against right-handed pitching in 167 at bats, Naquin has just 20 at bats (5 for 20) for a .250 average against lefties, with only two strikeouts. With so many clutch hits, increased run production and power numbers, and strong speed on the base path, it is time for Naquin to see everyday playing time and earn more at bats versus south paws, sending Abraham Almonte and Juan Uribe to the bench so the young star can continue to shine.
Primetime Matinee Match-up: The Indians and Nationals conclude their brief two-game series with a great pitching match-up at 12:10pm Wednesday afternoon, as Stephen Strasburg squares off against Carlos Carrasco.