CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians dropped their second straight game at home, falling the Houston Astros at Progressive Field, 4-3.
This column presents my takeaways from Tuesday’s game. For more baseball analysis and insight, follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. HONEST MISTAKE
When your offense isn’t able to break through, one pitch can be the difference between winning and losing. Cleveland learned that the hard way on Tuesday, as an 0-2 curveball from Corey Kluber to Marwin Gonzalez changed the game with one swing.
Gonzalez’s three-run bomb to the seats in right field gave Houston an early 3-0 lead in the second inning, an advantage the Astros would never surrender on Tuesday night. For Kluber, the big swing allowed was just the seventh base hit of any variety the righty has yielded on 0-2 pitches this season.
Digging deeper, it was the first homer Kluber has allowed on an 0-2 pitch since Sept. 1, 2014 to some guy named Victor Martinez. So, what happened on the offering?
“The curveball has been pretty good since I’ve caught him, so I was trying to get one in the dirt, hopefully,” catcher Roberto Perez said. “But, he made a mistake.”
2. THE OUTLIER
Given how well Kluber has thrown over previous 10 starts (1.94 ERA), Tuesday’s line might stand out as a poor game for the righty, but it also indicates just how special the ace has been lately.
Clearly, over the six-batter stretch where he walked a pair prior to Gonzalez’s homer and yielded an RBI triple to Alex Bregman in the third, Kluber lost the zone a bit. He still managed to rebound, giving his club seven innings and striking out nine.
“It wasn’t his best performance, but yet if not for a hanging 0-2 pitch he would have given up one,” manager Terry Francona said. “He’s pretty good.”
In the end, if the bats could have responded sooner than their attempt to rally in the final two innings, Kluber’s mistake to Gonzalez on the hanging curve would have been far less of a story. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the offense scuffled to do much against six Astros hurlers.
“The bats will come around,” Perez said. “But, man, that was a tough loss.”
To Kluber’s credit, he did everything he could to give his team a fighting chance. After Bregman’s triple in the third, the righty retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced before handing it off to the bullpen for the eighth.
3. BIG TURNAROUND
The Astros cashed in on the one big opportunity handed them in the second inning, but Cleveland’s offense wasn’t able to do the same in the frame prior to the righty’s mistake curveball to Gonzalez.
The Indians led off the bottom of the first with a pair of hard-hit balls, a single by Carlos Santana and a double by Jason Kipnis, putting runners on second and third with nobody out against spot starter Brad Peacock.
But instead of rolling out to an early advantage — particularly in a situation that didn’t need a base hit to plate a run or more — Francisco Lindor flew out, Mike Napoli popped out and Jose Ramirez lined out to end the top of the first and allow the Astros to escape the problematic inning.
Cleveland was able to tack on a run in the bottom of the second, courtesy of an RBI groundout by Tyler Naquin, but in a lot of ways, that first inning set the tone for the Indians’ struggles until Santana finally slugged one out of the ballpark to cut Houston’s lead to 4-2.
“Obviously that was a big turn of events,” Francona said. “We have second and third and nobody out, don’t score and then they come back with three. That’s a big turnaround.”
The team finished 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday night.
4. NOT ENOUGH
The Indians have completed 30 come-from-behind victories in 2016, so witnessing any sort of rally in the ninth certainly wasn’t out of the question. Cleveland has had a knack — especially recently — of finding ways to win games they have no business winning.
For a brief moment, Tuesday’s felt like one of those games.
Jose Ramirez led off the bottom of the ninth, facing Astros closer Ken Giles, by smacking a single through the hole between third and short. Seconds later, Ramirez advanced to second on a passed ball by catcher Evan Gattis.
After a Lonnie Chisenhall strikeout, Coco Crisp managed to lay off six pitches in the dirt, as Giles threw the veteran switch-hitter six straight sliders out of the strike zone. Crisp chased a pair, but finally drew the walk in the at-bat, putting the tying run on first base with one down.
Crisp’s speed would create the third run of the night for Cleveland, taking off for second on a pitch to Tyler Naquin, successfully sliding into second with his second steal since being acquired by the Indians in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.
On the play, the ball bounced into center field and Ramirez scored, making it a 4-3 game. However, that’s as close as Cleveland could manage, as Naquin flew out to left field and pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer was retired on a weak check-swing dribbler up the first base line to end Tuesday’s game.
Despite the Indians’ empty comeback attempt, a loss by the Detroit Tigers to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night kept the Tribe’s lead in the American League Central at 4.5 games with 25 games remaining.
At this point in the season, it’s just about survival and outlasting your opponents. And sometimes, it’s good to get a little help.