CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians took down the Minnesota Twins in walk-off fashion, as Jason Kipnis delivered the RBI single to lift the Tribe to a 1-0 win in 10 innings.
Here are my takeaways from Monday’s game at Progressive Field. For more baseball analysis, follow me on Twitter @TJZuppe.
1. ONE RUN BETTER
Sometimes, despite run totals that appear to be alternating in some form of binary code (yes, I realize that’s the second time in two days I’ve made that joke), one run is all you need to win a Major League game. It doesn’t happen often. And it doesn’t make the journey in between and less excruciating. But it sure as hell beats the alternative.
“We talk about it all the time, you want to be one run better,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “That would be that and no more.”
Jason Kipnis was the beneficiary of the walk-off beating from his teammates on Monday night (and we’ll get back to that here shortly), but perhaps the biggest contribution in the 1-0 victory over the Twins, who have now lost 11 straight games, came from an unlikely source — reliever Zach McAllister.
2. RETURN OF THE MACK
McAllister came on with the bases loaded in the top of the 10th after Cody Allen’s pitch count rose to 37 in an effort to record the final out of his attempted two-inning relief appearance. It seems like ages since McAllister last appeared in a high leverage spot, but with Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and now Allen already used in the ballgame, someone was going to have to provide some unexpectedly crucial outs if the Indians were to ever win the scoreless game.
The 28-year-old, who entered Monday’s matchup with a 4.20 ERA in 40 innings this season, fell behind 2-0 on Twins rookie outfielder Max Kepler, but fought back in the seven-pitch at-bat, firing fastball after fastball in the direction of the left-handed hitter. Finally, on the seventh pitch of the exchange, McAllister got Kepler to fly out harmlessly to center fielder Rajai Davis to keep the game scoreless.
“That was probably the biggest at-bat of the night, honestly,” Monday’s starter Trevor Bauer said. “Mac comes in, starts off 2-0 to a dangerous guy who’s hit us well, and comes back and gets him out. Just for team morale, having him come in and be able to get out of a situation like that, it’s great. It enabled us to win and I think it was good for everybody involved.”
Since returning from the disabled list at the end of July, McAllister has posted a 1.80 ERA, but has allowed 19 hits in 14 innings pitched. Somehow, he’s pitched around the traffic, but the out he provided on Monday was certainly the biggest he’s given his club in quite some time.
3. THAT WORKS
That set the stage for Kipnis’ heroics in the bottom of the 10th, but with everything feeling like a struggle for the Tribe’s bats of late, it’s no surprise that portions of the half frame felt like pulling teeth for Cleveland’s offense. It all started with a drag bunt single by Abraham Almonte, but the two hitters who followed, Chris Gimenez and Rajai Davis, couldn’t follow suit with bunts of their own to move up the runners.
Fortunately, Gimenez rendered the bunt unnecessary by slashing a single to right field to move Almonte up 90 feet before Davis grounded out and Kipnis stepped to the plate to punch the game-winner to left-center field and sent him running into the outfield to avoid the walk-off mob, providing the Indians with their eighth walk-off victory of the season.
“Hopefully the more wins we get, the more relaxed we can be,” Kipnis said. “Not to say guys are pressing, but guys are still trying to find the adjustments that are working. We know there are ups and downs. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if we could get on a hot stretch in the last month of the season. That’s when you want to be hot, going in there. That’s the best time.”
4. POSTING ZEROS
Of course, the walk-off victory doesn’t erase some of the recent concerns about Cleveland’s offense. The Indians have now scored one run or fewer in seven of their last eight games. The Tribe went 1-for-9 in the ballgame with runners in scoring position. They still stranded nine runners and were pitched to by a club who had allowed the following run totals over the previous 10 games: 8, 5, 10, 2, 8, 9, 8, 15, 8, 9.
On most nights, one run isn’t going to cut it. Fortunately for the Indians, Bauer and the bullpen made it just enough to pick up a much-needed victory.
Speaking of Bauer, the righty deserves a great deal of credit for holding the Twins scoreless through his six frames on Monday night. The last time he faced Minnesota’s offense, Bauer gave up eight runs in 2 2/3 innings on Aug. 3. The results were much different on Monday, as the right-handed starter provided one of his better outings of the campaign by scattering five hits, a walk and striking out four.
5. THAT’S NASTY
Meanwhile, there isn’t one hitter on the Indians who isn’t excited about the prospect of not having to face dominant southpaw Andrew Miller. The left-handed reliever has made a living over the past few seasons off of making opposing hitters look like they’ve never held a bat before. Miller added two more victims to his list on Monday night.
Two Minnesota batters reached base vs. Miller in the seventh inning in just about the only way seemingly possible — well-placed grounders and soft bloopers beyond the glove of defenders. With runners on the corners and the game tied 0-0, it was going to take a bit of an escape act to keep Monday’s game scoreless. But nothing could prepare Robbie Grossman and Brian Dozier for the type of filth that would be hurled in their direction in the following at-bats.
Miller set up Grossman with an 82.5 MPH slider, picked up strike two with a 95 MPH heater, then sent the switch-hitter back to the dugout with 84.3 MPH slider, which dove in at his feet and forced Grossman to flail and miss on the swing. Next up, Dozier took a pair of pitches from the southpaw, but was put away with three straight sliders, the last of which made the right-handed hitter do something that resembled a swing — but certainly not one to be proud of.
“We’ve seen it before, with Khris Davis in Oakland, go down the list.” Kipnis said of Miller’s ability to make the opposition look silly. “He goes in with that slider to righties. The ball comes in to their back legs. It’s a wipeout slider, a nasty pitch and I love watching it from second base. It’s a much better perspective than at the plate. Usually I watch it as it goes by my bat and then I walk with my head down back to the dugout.”
6. JUST WIN, BABY
The Detroit Tigers beat the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals outscored the New York Yankees on Monday night, keeping things status quo at the top of the AL Central heading into Tuesday’s set of games. And while some of the issues with the Tribe’s bats were evident once again on Monday, winning games — yes, even the ugly ones — is the most important factor in the thick of a pennant race.