If anyone doubts that the magic is back at the corner of Ontario and Carnegie, they haven’t been watching the last two miracle finishes there. How could Tyler Naquin top Thursday night’s walk-off when he delivered a pinch-hit sac fly for the win? How about a rare inside-the-park homer, finishing with a head-first slide at the plate to beat the throw and clinch Friday night’s game, 3-2?
This was more a fly-off than a walk-off. Because Naquin was in fifth gear as he rounded third and zoomed toward home. The thunderous noise was either a packed Progressive Field screaming at the top of its collective lungs or Tyler breaking the sound barrier. Maybe both. On his radio call, Hammy referred to Tyler as “Usain Naquin”– and he surely bolted to the plate for an important W in the Tribe’s bid for a championship season.
Playing against the AL East leading Toronto Blue Jays, this game had the feel and tension of October baseball. For much of the contest, it was a pitcher’s duel. The Jays’ Francisco Liriano went 6 full innings, giving up only 4 hits and 1 run — an RBI by clutch-hitting Mike Napoli, driving in Jason Kipnis in the sixth.
That run cut the Indians’ deficit in half. Tribe starter Trevor Bauer had given up a two-run dinger to Russell Martin the top of the first. But, oh, did Bauer settle in after that! The kid pitched a beauty, bearing down and striking out 13 as he went 8 full innings. Bauer had competitive fire in his eyes and showed some emotion on the mound. It’s the kind of performance the Indians will need as they head toward the play-offs.
So is the kind of 9th inning the Tribe put on display Friday night. Still leading 2-1, the Jays brought in closer Roberto Osuna, who has 27 saves on the year and a 2.17 ERA even after this blown opportunity.
After Carlos Santana popped out to the catcher, Mister RBI himself, Jose Ramirez, came to the plate. Ok, Tribe fans know that Ramirez has been the dictionary drawing for “clutch” this year with RISP situations. So we were hoping he could at least get on base and put the tying run aboard. Yet, Ramirez launched the tying run himself into the right field stands.
Then the craziness began. Tyler Naquin lofted another shot to almost the same spot as Ramirez’s homer. Jays’ right fielder Michael Saunders made a leaping grab for the ball. He missed it — but the ball also missed leaving the yard by mere inches. Instead, it caromed off the top of the wall and ricocheted back into no-man’s land between right and center field.
Naquin apparently thought the ball was going out. He wasn’t exactly jogging to first, but he wasn’t sprinting either. He saw the ball bounce back as he rounded that bag — and that’s when the afterburners kicked in. Man, did the rookie fly around the bases to beat the throw home!
The Indians’ bench may have been even more excited than the fans in the stands, if that’s possible. A parade was streaming toward home plate as it became clear what Naquin was about to do. I think Napoli practically beat Tyler to the dish to celebrate. Party at Napoli’s indeed.