CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians were stunned by a five-spot in the ninth by Chicago, as the White Sox came from behind to beat Cody Allen and the Tribe, 10-7.
This column features my takeaways from Wednesday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. HOW DID WE GET HERE?
“That’s just baseball.”
Cliché. Yeah. Tired. Sometimes. True. Often.
Watching the horrific top of the ninth unfold at Progressive Field, it seemed more and more likely that the game of inches that baseball can be was going to be punctuated by a big hit somewhere. Anyone that has spent any amount of time watching the game probably had the same feeling. Just like the old saying a bloop and a blast, Wednesday’s game followed a similar script.
After righty Cody Allen, who entered with the Indians leading 7-5, struck out Justin Morneau to open the top half of the frame, it felt like the Tribe’s trusty reliever was going to be sentenced to death by a thousand papercuts. An infield single by Todd Frazier got the first runner aboard. Shortstop Francisco Lindor added to the impending chaos by committing a rare miscue on a throwing error — a ball the slick-fielding defender probably should have just eaten instead of firing into the dugout from deep in the hole at short.
The next batter, J.B. Shuck hit a chopper just past the outreached glove of Allen, eventually being corralled by second baseman Jason Kipnis up the middle. However, Kipnis couldn’t get enough on the throw moving to his right, and Shuck reached safely at first. After a walk on a borderline pitch to Tim Anderson, Dioner Navarro blooped a perfectly placed single off the glove of a chasing Jose Ramirez in shallow left field — a difficult play for anyone to make — moving everyone up a base and cutting the Indians’ lead to 7-6.
“That’s baseball,” Allen said. “You’ve got to make pitches when you have to. Had a nice opportunity right there to kind of limit what was going on.”
Consider what happened next a missed opportunity.
2. THE SLAM
Baseball has a funny way of making the “never” happen. Cody Allen had never given up a homer on an 0-2 pitch. Adam Eaton had never hit a grand slam before in his career. The Indians had never lost a game this season that they led after eight innings.
Welp. So much for that.
Catcher Roberto Perez called for a knuckle curve down and in. The Tribe’s backstop set up as Allen prepared to deliver the 0-2 pitch to Eaton.
The offering started to break toward the plate, staying up perhaps a little bit more than Allen would have prefered.
The curve ball is still in off the plate, but Eaton keeps his hands in and drops the bat head on the pitch, making good contact.
Eaton’s hits it hard and deep, barely even giving right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall time to turn around and watch the ball sail over his head, erasing the Indians’ lead and putting Cleveland in a three-run hole on the left-handed hitter’s first career grand slam.
“Didn’t actually think that was a bad pitch to Eaton, he just put a good swing on it,” Allen said. “That guy’s a good player. That’s kind of how the inning went.”
Things just unraveled quickly for Allen, who despite loading the bases, never really gave up any hard contact until Eaton’s blast.
‘We got two infield singles, a walk that you could see the umpire flinch like he almost called it, and then a flare right over third,” Francona said. “And he’s not in a good situation. He’s facing a guy that hasn’t put the ball in play yet, gets ahead 0-2 and hung a breaking ball. That was pretty much the ballgame.”
3. TAKE IT BACK?
Could the inning have had a different feel had Lindor just put the ball in his back pocket with one out in the inning? Perhaps. But it’s tough to put any of what took place on the Tribe’s talented shortstop, especially because the ball in the hole hit by Frazier was one most shortstops don’t even smell.
If he had, maybe Kipnis is playing more up the middle on Shuck’s bouncer. Maybe the Indians get an out at second. Maybe Allen goes about the inning differently. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe it all comes crashing down in some other unexpected way.
“I don’t want to say I’d take it back but I’ll say maybe it’d be different if I keep the ball,” Lindor said. “Just trying to get an out, didn’t make a good throw. It happens.”
In fairness, how many similar plays has Lindor made this season? The spectacular is regularly part of his nightly effort at shortstop. How can you truly blame him for wanting to make a play for his pitcher? In reality, there were a number of factors that led to the Wednesday’s outcome. And it’s still on Allen to make the necessary pitches to keep the opposition off the board.
“Again, how many times have we seen [Lindor] make plays where you don’t want to take his aggressiveness away,” Francona said.
4. WHY NOT MILLER?
So, why no Andrew Miller in the ninth inning? The dominant southpaw was unavailable on Wednesday night after working two innings in Tuesday’s win. He had also appeared in three of the past four games, with the two most recent outings being of the multi-inning variety.
Availability is typically established before a game even begins to remove any temptation of a late-game change of heart.
It certainly had nothing to do with preconceived notions about roles, closers or saves. Francona has already proven willing to use Miller in the game’s most critical spot. But let’s not forget, handing a two-run lead to Allen in the ninth has worked extremely well over three seasons for Cleveland.
Or are we letting one uncharacteristic outing cloud our judgment?
5. WHY CODY?
Why not? Allen has been terrific lately, really settling into a nice groove before Wednesday’s meltdown.
It’s not as if Allen had struggled leading into his rare five-run meltdown. Entering the ballgame, Allen had yet to surrender a run or a hit in any of his August appearances. Over his last 18 outings, he owned a 0.49 ERA and .150 batting average against, striking out 25 in 18 1/3 frames.
Go back even further. The righty had posted a 1.02 ERA and .160 batting average against with 48 strikeouts and 10 walks over his past 34 games.
On what planet is turning the game over to a reliever putting up that sort of production a bad idea? In the end, Allen made the pitch, Eaton took the swing and the Indians wasted an opportunity to grow their lead in the AL Central to seven games. A failed execution — and understanding the odd circumstances that led up to it — was to blame for the shocking loss.
It certainly stings. In a pennant race, they all do. Every error is magnified. But keeping it from snowballing beyond one rotten and uncharacteristic night is the more critical point.
“It’s one game,” Allen said. “Obviously it was a tough one, but it’s one ballgame. We’ll show up tomorrow ready to play.”