CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians overcame an early 3-0 deficit to win in walk-off fashion over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night, 5-4.
This column features my takeaways from Thursday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. PICK ME
Tyler Naquin admitted he might have been lobbying to find a way into Thursday’s game.
“Little bit,” he said. “Just always staying ready. Bottom line, being ready when your name is called.”
And in unusual fashion, that situation took place after Roberto Perez had already seen one pitch in an at-bat against Chicago reliever Jacob Turner. It was a ball out of the zone, but the ball popped free from Dioner Navarro’s glove, allowing Abraham Almonte to scamper to third following his leadoff double in the bottom of the ninth. With no need for Perez to move the runner, manager Terry Francona decided — with a 1-0 count in the at-bat — it was Naquin’s time to prove his readiness.
“Tyler Naquin’s been sitting over there by the batting rack for a couple of days ready to hit,’ Francona said. “And that’s not the easiest thing to do, but we didn’t have to go find him. He was ready, and it showed.”
The first pitch Naquin saw from Turner was scorched to center field, where Adam Eaton tracked it down but couldn’t get enough on a throw home, allowing Almonte to score the game’s winning run. And after touching first base, the rookie outfielder knew the mob was coming for him.
“It’s great,” Naquin said. “But I know [Mike Napoli is] heading it, so it’s a little scary.”
Staying ready has been a theme for Naquin throughout the season. Playing mostly against right-handed pitching, the 25-year-old has been forced to find ways to be prepared when called upon. And more often than not, he has delivered.
“It’s go time,” Naquin said he thought when the outfielder finally heard his name called. “Let’s go. There’s no other thought that you can have. Just hit the ball up and try to get it done.”
On Thursday, his heroics — the first walk-off of his career — gave Cleveland their sixth walk-off win of the campaign and third against the White Sox in 2016.
2. BIG OUTS
Of course, none of the Tribe’s characteristic late-game antics would have been possible without the contributions of Cleveland’s bullpen, pitching eight innings of one-run, five-hit ball to keep the Indians in Thursday’s matchup. Kyle Crockett, Dan Otero and Andrew Miller all provided a big lift, but perhaps the biggest outs were provided by the right-arm of Mike Clevinger.
After Salazar managed to pitch just one inning in his return from the 15-day disabled list (more on him in a minute), the Tribe were already facing a 3-0 hole after one. Crockett bridged the gap to the third inning, where Clevinger came on to toss four scoreless frames, allowing just two hits and a run, walking one and striking out four. If Cleveland was to have any chance to climbing back in the ballgame, the Indians were going to need shutdown frames in the middle portions of the contest.
By the time Clevinger’s outing was done, the righty had helped get the game into the seventh inning, giving Francona a comfortable spot to hand things over to Otero and Miller for the final three frames.
“That’s not the way you really draw it up,” Francona said. “First of all, I thought Clev was outstanding. He gave up a couple hits and one was at the end there. He was really good. So, that was good. Even when the night starts off bad, you kind of have something to hang you hat on because he really did a good job.”
Thursday’s innings weren’t the only big ones the rookie right-hander has provided recently. Saturday’s start against his former organization, the Los Angeles Angels, were also pretty critical to helping the Indians grab a sweep over the weekend. Over his two most recent outings, Clevinger has allowed two runs on three hits in 9 2/3 innings, walking five and recording seven punchouts.
“It’s getting more comfortable any time I get out there, any time I get a chance to get out there,” he said. “Just getting in sync with what my plan of attack is, staying within myself, it’s all kind of coming together.”
3. WRONG CALL?
Prior to Salazar’s return from the disabled list, the Indians were adamant about the righty not needing a rehab start in the Minors to prepare him for his return to the rotation following a recent battle with right elbow inflammation.
Instead, Salazar threw bullpen sessions and pitched a simulated-type game following Sunday’s contest at Progressive Field, hoping that a batter in the box and throwing off the game mound would be all the preparation the talented hurler would need.
As it turned out, he could have probably used that rehab start after all.
Salazar was wild from the get-go on Thursday night, throwing hard — registering in the 95-96 MPH range to begin the game — but walking three to load the bases for Morneau. It was then Salazar threw just his second slider of the ballgame, a pitch the left-handed hitter clubbed off the left field wall to clear the bases and give the Sox an early 3-0 advantage.
“I don’t think it was mechanical,” Francona said. “I just think he was rusty. You could tell that right from the very beginning, he couldn’t really find the plate. That was probably almost our worst-case scenario, is throwing that many pitches in the first inning.”
As opposed to messing around for another inning, Salazar was sent out to the bullpen in a sequence of events that looked a lot more like a Spring Training game than one taking place in the thick of a pennant race. If not for Thursday’s comeback, Salazar’s “rusty” start would have been a real downer.
“I threw like three more innings [in the bullpen],” Salazar said. “Threw something similar. The main thing tonight was just to feel good. And I feel good right now.”
And as for not making a rehab start, the righty said: “I don’t think that makes a difference.”
4. MR. CLUTCH
In the least shocking turn of events of the evening, Jose Ramirez provided two clutch hits for the Indians with runners in scoring position, including the game-tying RBI double in the bottom of the eighth to bring the ballgame back to even.
Who else would Cleveland rather have at the dish right now in crucial situations?
His two base-hits with runners in position to score raised his season average with RISP to .386. The switch-hitter is now hitting .394 with nine doubles, 20 runs scored and 12 RBI over the past 24 games, reaching base at least once in every game over that stretch.