CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians snapped their brief two-game losing streak, topping the Houston Astros on Wednesday night, 6-5.
This column presents my takeaways from Wednesday’s game. For more baseball analysis and insight, follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
Joba Chamberlain, who pitched with the Indians earlier this season, could certainly sympathize with Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco on Wednesday night. After all, who could forget the fateful night in 2007 when the former New York Yankees hurler was pestered by bugs to the point of blowing a playoff game at Progressive Field?
Only this time, their allegiance needs to be called into question.
Carrasco and the Indians haven’t reached the postseason yet, but the tiny flying insects did a number on the righty’s left eye in the top of the fourth as Cleveland continues to fight for an ability to reach the MLB playoffs once again.
With nobody out in the frame, Carrasco was severely bothered when a midge flew into his eye, sending out the team trainer to monitor the status of the pitcher’s peepers.
After being checked on and action resumed, the complexion of Wednesday’s changed on two pitches, as Yulieski Gurriel singled through the infield into right and Colby Rasmus put one into the right field seats, giving Houston a 3-2 edge in the ballgame.
“It doesn’t feel good,” Carrasco said of the bothersome spectators. “But I just have to come back and make my pitches. I got a ground ball base hit. And the first pitch he homered, it was a bit inside.”
2. STOP BUGGING ME
And it’s not as if the bugs stopped there, continuing to pester everyone throughout much of Wednesday’s contest, swarming around each of the infielders and pitcher’s mound for the next several innings.
“They were everywhere out there,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of the midge invasion. “In the dugout, it’s hard to sense it but when you get out on the field, man, they’re everywhere. Other than that one that went in his eye, didn’t seem like it got in the way too much, but they were all over the place.”
To Carrasco’s credit, he overcame the plague of insects to work 7 1/3 solid innings, allowing four runs on nine hits, walking one and striking out five. But in the process, he might have gained the respect of Chamberlain, who followed along with the familiar storyline all night long on Twitter.
“That was different,” first baseman Mike Napoli said. “I remember seeing it in the playoff game, Joba throwing. He had 10,000 of them on his neck. I know it could be worse. That was just part of [the game]. We both had to deal with it.
“I was waving my hat until Cookie got into the windup. Then I put my hat on and did what I had to do. You still have to get ready. You hope nothing flies in your eye.”
Speaking of Napoli, manager Terry Francona recently spoke of his belief that the right-handed slugger’s homers just seem to come in bunches. Napoli recently went through a 21-game homerless streak, but at no point did Francona feel like it was time to panic.
On Wednesday, Napoli swatted his second homer over the past three days, blasting an offering from Houston starter Doug Fister over halfway up the bleachers in left field to give the Indians a one-run lead on the fifth-inning, two-run blast.
“Pretty much my whole career has been like that,” Napoli said. “I know that when I’m struggling, I’m going to find it. Just stay positive and do my routine in the cages and usually I get out of it.”
The number 31 also holds another significance for the right-handed hitter. Wednesday’s blast marked the first time Napoli has clubbed 31 bombs in a single season, surpassing the total he hit in 2011 with the Texas Rangers. The 109-MPH shot off his bat was also the 12th homer he’s belted with an exit velocity of 108 MPH or more this season (via MLB Statcast).
“I’m glad it came in a win,” he said. “We still have a lot of meaningful baseball left, which will be fun down the stretch. It’s going to be a fun time.”
It will be an even better party at Napoli’s down the stretch for Cleveland if the homers keep coming in bunches.
4. CHESS MOVES
The Indians acquired outfielder Brandon Guyer prior to the MLB Trade Deadline to hit left-handed pitching. So, if that’s what he’s on the roster to do, why not use him earlier than anticipated when the opposition brings in a southpaw with a pair of runners on base?
That’s preciously what Francona thought too, pinch-hitting Guyer for the left-handed hitting Tyler Naquin in the bottom of the fifth. Following Napoli’s big blast, Lonnie Chisenhall and Rajai Davis followed with back-to-back singles, chasing Fister from the ballgame. Houston manager A.J. Hinch then went to left-hander Kevin Chapman with one down in the frame.
Francona immediately went to his bench, summoning Guyer, who entering Wednesday’s game owned a .996 OPS vs. southpaws this season. The right-handed hitter picked out an 88 MPH changeup on the third pitch of the at-bat and promptly plugged the left-center field gap, scoring a pair. For Francona, the expansion of September rosters allowed him the flexibility to be a bit more proactive in a situation such as that.
“If you do it in July when you have a three or four-man bench, it’s hard to do that,” the manager said. “But now you can. But the guy has to be ready to hit and he’s always ready and took a good swing.”
To Guyer’s credit, he’s gotten familiar with an ability to stay ready for situations like Wednesday’s. Given the pair of runs Houston added later in the matchup, the two-run double proved to be the difference.
“I’ve gotten into a pretty good routine having to do this the past couple of years, so about the fourth or fifth innings – whenever we see a lefty get up – [we] will go in the cage and take some front toss, do some BP in the cage, run around, try to get loose.”
And certainly, having a lefty masher on the bench is a nice weapon to unleash.
“He’s got over a thousand OPS against left-handers,” Francona said. “It’s a really valuable guy to have.”
Perhaps Indians fans will disagree, but when a team’s best hitter faces one of the opposing team’s best relievers with the tying run on first and two outs in the ninth, the situation that unfolds is guaranteed to be good theater for baseball fans of any kind.
That played out on Wednesday, when the AL’s top hitter and one of the top candidates for league MVP, Jose Altuve, stepped into the box to face Tribe righty Cody Allen.
The five-pitch sequence ended with the right-handed hitter swinging through a high 94.5 MPH heater from Allen, slamming the door on the Astros’ comeback attempt and increasing the Indians’ lead in the AL Central over the Detroit Tigers to 5.5 games.
After whiffing on the final delivery from Allen, Altuve, the Major’s fourth most difficult player to strikeout this season, looked out at Cleveland’s hard-throwing reliever and nodded, offering a sign of mutual respect.
“That’s pretty cool,” Allen said of the exchange. “That’s a guy that he’s one of the faces of baseball. So, to get that, that’s pretty cool. Before my career’s over, I’ll probably be sending a jersey over for him to sign one day. He’s one of those guys.”