CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians picked up their ninth walk-off win of the season, scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to stun the Miami Marlins and sweep the three-game series, 6-5.
Here are my takeaways from Sunday’s game at Progressive Field. Follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe) for more baseball analysis and insight.
1. THE BEATDOWN
In late-game situations, sometimes the pitcher isn’t the only thing you have a game plan for. There are instances, as Lonnie Chisenhall found out on Sunday evening, that you have to prepare to be mobbed by your teammates.
“You try to be aggressive and get on the ground quick,” Chisenhall said. “They get their punches in and things like that. It’s totally worth it for the win, especially with how we won it.”
How they won it was in pretty unbelievable fashion, but then again, Cleveland has made a habit of performing the improbable, especially recently, at Progressive Field in 2016.
On Sunday, the victory involved a three-run rally — after the Indians had already fought back to take the lead and later lost it — and it ended on Chisenhall’s RBI single off Fernando Rodney that fell just out of Ichiro Suzuki’s reach as he gave chase in right field.
“Ichiro, he’s still moving very well out there,” Chisenhall said. “He gets good reads. He came really close. I was hoping. You never know, but I was hoping.”
2. THE WALKS
Cleveland entered the bottom of the ninth trailing by a pair. Fernando Rodney, Miami’s closer, entered to protect the lead the Marlins had just gained in the top of the inning (more on Miami’s success vs. the Indians bullpen in a bit).
Brandon Guyer entered the game as a pinch hitter for Roberto Perez, and the right-handed hitter promptly drew a four-pitch walk.
Carlos Santana followed Guyer, having already delivered a pretty clutch walk in the seventh inning to help Cleveland take their first lead of the ballgame. Four pitches later, Santana had reached again via the base on balls.
It appeared, however, the Indians’ rally might be stalled when Jason Kipnis was ruled out on a close check-swing call, perhaps balancing out the baseball universe for the obvious blown call that went the Tribe’s way in Friday’s series opener — a decision which helped Cleveland take a 3-0 lead.
With runners on second and third, Francisco Lindor flew out to center field, giving the Indians one final out to complete their comeback. Thankfully for Cleveland, Rodney lost the plate again, and Mike Napoli was the beneficiary of another four-pitch free pass.
3. THE HITS
Bases loaded. Two outs. Down by two. Given Jose Ramirez’s success this season, who else would you prefer at the plate for the Indians? Having already collected three hits in the ballgame, the switch-hitter’s fourth base knock of the day was his biggest, punching a 1-2 fastball from Rodney through the hole and into left field, which enabled Guyer and Santana to score, tying Sunday’s game at 5-5.
Hitting in those clutch situations has been nothing new for Ramirez this season, who entered hitting .360 with runners in scoring position this season. And he isn’t slowing down, hitting .362 since Aug. 1 with 12 doubles, one triple, five homers, 21 RBI and 23 runs scored.
“I don’t really worry about [the situation],” Ramirez said through the team’s translator, Anna Bolton. “I try to have a good at-bat every single time I’m up. Sometimes there’s more emotion, there’s more energy, but I don’t worry about that.”
One hitter later, Chisenhall ended Sunday’s game with his second walk-off hit of his career — the first since Sept. 9, 2012 vs. Detroit — going 2-for-5 in the victory.
“Once you get two strikes, you just want to put the barrel on it and put it in play,” the left-handed hitter said. “You just want to give yourself a chance. There’s a lot of field out there and you’re trying not to strike out. You just want to put the ball in play and give yourself a chance and I was able to do it.”
4. THE PUZZLE PIECES
Expanded rosters certainly help managers in the final month of the MLB campaign. Terry Francona, who already squeezes every bit of talent he can out of the roster he controls, enjoys the added ability to empty out the bench in game like Sunday’s, using guys in different situations to accent their strengths.
For example, here is how several position players were used off the bench to have an impact on Sunday’s win:
• Rajai Davis: Entered as a pinch-runner in the seventh and stole a base, later scoring on Jason Kipnis’ go-ahead two-run single.
• Coco Crisp: Entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and drew a key walk to set up Kipnis’ big hit.
• Roberto Perez: Came in to replace Crisp behind the plate after his pinch-hit walk.
• Brandon Guyer: Drew a key leadoff walk to set the tone in the bottom of the ninth.
• Michael Martinez: Pinch ran for Mike Napoli after the right-handed hitter worked a four-pitch walk in the ninth. Martinez scored the winning run.
“And not just quantity, but Raj being able on the first pitch, even though they know he’s going, to be ready to do that, is really impressive,” manager Terry Francona said. “And Coco with a good at-bat. They’re all over there ready, so it’s a good feeling. Kind of fun.”
Using whatever advantage they can create has been pretty critical to Cleveland’s success in 2016, maintaining their 5.5-game lead in the AL Central partially due to their ability to get the most of complementary roster. And while the rosters won’t be as inflated in October, having a group capable of contributing in several key spots, whether it’s via a platoon advantage or as a late-game substitution, can only help in the postseason.
“Tito does a great job of that,” Chisenhall said. “You put a team together. You don’t stack one guy on top of each other. I’m complemented and I complement someone else. It’s the same thing in the bullpen and a couple other places on the field. It’s a puzzle and they did a great job of putting it together.”
5. THE PICK-ME-UP
Speaking of the bullpen, it was a rare collapse in the final three innings that put Cleveland in position to eventually come from behind and snag the win. Three pitchers who have been pretty stellar recently for the Indians, Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw and Andrew Miller, were all tagged for runs on Sunday.
Otero’s tally was of the unearned variety due to an uncharacteristic defensive miscue by Francisco Lindor in the seventh, which opened the door for the Marlins’ second run of the evening.
In the eighth, Shaw served up a game-tying solo homer to J.T. Realmuto, snapping a string of 18 scoreless appearances by the right-handed hurler.
One inning later, Miller’s usual dominant self went missing for a pair of hitters, but that was the only opening Miami needed to create a couple runs of separation. Miguel Rojas led off the ninth with a double down the right field line, and Ichiro followed with a run-scoring double down the right field line to give the Marlins a one-run edge on a pitch that wasn’t all that bad.
After Cody Allen replaced Miller, a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly gave the Marlins another run of possible insurance. Of course, as we later witnessed, Miami’s insurance was no good at Progressive Field, as the Indians’ offense fought back to win the game, picking up a relief unit that has been pretty dominant for them lately.
“They’re constantly carrying us,” Chisenhall said of the bullpen. “Going into the game in the seventh, we feel really confident. We were winning in the seventh tonight and we still won the game. It’s fun. It’s different people each night. It’s a team and it’s a lot of people contributing.”
6. OH, YEAH
Bonus time! It’s pretty incredible that Danny Salazar’s 11-strikeout performance could be an afterthought. But in some ways, his performance made its way to the back burner. So, in the interest of covering everything important, here was Salazar’s pitch distribution for each of his 11 punchies on Sunday afternoon.
- 1. 84.2 Changeup
- 2. 80.3 Slider
- 3. 85.0 Changeup
- 4. 95.3 Four-seam fastball
- 5. 84.9 Changeup
- 6. 84.1 Changup
- 7. 84.6 Changeup
- 8. 94.5 Four-seam fastball
- 9. 83.6 Changeup
- 10. 96.3 Four-seam fastball
- 11. 94.4 Four-seam fastball
Salazar’s victims over 5 2/3 innings included: Ichiro (2), Martin Prado (3), Christian Yelich (2), Jeff Francoeur, J.T. Realmuto, Derek Dietrich and Chris Johnson.
The righty has now whiffed 21 batters over his last two encouraging outings.