CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians were unable to complete the three-game sweep of the Tigers, falling to Detroit in the series finale at Progressive Field, 9-5.
This column presents my takeaways from Sunday’s game. For more baseball analysis and insight, follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. BEAN BRAWL
How do you make a matchup between division rivals with first-place implications on the line more interesting in September? Why, you add multiple bean balls to the mix, of course.
Perhaps that strategy wasn’t a good one for Indians starter Trevor Bauer, who began his postgame session with the media on Sunday by apologizing to Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera for drilling them with pitches during the series finale against Detroit.
Two of the offerings came in the top of the third, when Bauer allowed a trio of Tiger runs before finally extinguishing the flames of Detroit’s lack-of-command-aided rally.
The scariest of them all came when the Indians’ righty plunked Kinsler in the head to lead off the inning.
The impact knocked Kinsler’s helmet off and Bauer fell to his knees, placing his hands over his face, clearly indicating the wild offering was not intentional. The right-handed hurler even went out of his way to show that to Kinsler, appearing to apologize to the Tigers’ second baseman as he reached first base.
The second hit-by-pitch in the inning came with the bases loaded, an awful time to drill anyone — intentionally or not. And this time, Martinez was the victim of Bauer’s wildness.
Again, it’s awfully tough to claim any sort of intent exists when the HBP forces in a run, but at the same time, the Tigers’ clear frustration over Bauer hitting three of their best players was an understandable emotion to be feeling at the moment.
Kinsler even voiced his displeasure with the situation, barking out at Bauer as he walked down the line and touched home plate for Detroit’s first run of the afternoon.
“It’s not intentional,” Bauer said. “I have a very healthy respect for them, their whole lineup. I enjoy pitching against them, because they’re really good. I’m not trying to hit anybody, I’m trying to compete and execute pitches and get them out. I didn’t do that as well as I can today. It wasn’t intentional. And like I said, I wanted to extend my apologies to them.”
2. WHAT HAPPENED?
The timing of each of the HBPs was the clearest indicator of non-intent by the righty. But what in the world led to such a dramatic outing filled with Bauer heat-seeking missiles?
As catcher Chris Gimenez said, it was all about trying to execute the game plan.
“That’s something that I noticed we hadn’t done up until the point of today, was to pitch in,” Gimenez said. “That’s something Trevor’s very good at. I just felt like against a certain couple of guys in that lineup that we had to pitch in. We had to let them know that they weren’t going to be able to look out over the plate.”
Unfortunately, there was a pretty big disconnect between the blueprint and the execution, which led to some wildness and three early runs for Detroit.
“I know it does look really bad,” Gimenez added. “Anytime somebody on your team gets hits, three guys, let alone two in an inning, there’s always going to be that jawing back and forth. In the heat of the moment, you don’t really think about the situation.
“Obviously, bases loaded with Victor up, that’s not exactly the right time to hit somebody. We wouldn’t want to hit him anyway. I don’t know why we’d want to hit him to begin with. I understand it. And I know Trevor does, too, and I know he felt bad. It’s just kind of one of those things that unfortunately happened.”
3. STOP AND STARE
If Detroit didn’t get a measure of payback when starter Daniel Norris threw behind former Tigers outfielder Rajai Davis to lead off the bottom of the third, they certainly got the last laugh when Justin Upton creamed a fifth-inning offering from Bauer over the camera bay section of the 19-foot wall in center field, which extended Detroit’s lead to 5-2.
Upton admired his handywork, taking a few extra seconds — over 10 of them to be exact — to jog to first after stopping to admire his long drive just outside the batter’s box.
MLB Statcast had the details.
“Normally I would have [taken exception], but given the situation, I have to have a little bit longer of a leash on that,” Gimenez said. “I completely understand it. He definitely took his time around the bases, too, but the situation of the game, I completely understand it.”
4. WEIRD DAY
Bauer’s final line was one of the more interesting ones you’ll see: 5.2 IP, 10 H, 6 R/ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 3 HBP, 1 WP, 101 pitches (65 strikes).
Given the Indians’ current situation — the injury to Carrasco forced the bullpen into action for 10 innings on Saturday night and will probably be called upon quite often in the upcoming series against Kansas City — the team needed length for Sunday’s starter.
On top of that, Cleveland needed a better version of Bauer than they received in the finale.
The righty was even willing to concede that some of his offerings on Sunday were less than stellar. And given the injuries to Carrasco and Danny Salazar, a solid outing from the team’s new no. 2 starter also could have helped ease some of the large concerns about the Tribe’s banged up rotation.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the outing Bauer contributed was a little all over the map — just like some of his pitches on Sunday afternoon.
“The one thing, he does pitch in,” manager Terry Francona said. “And against a team like Detroit, that’s easier said than done. When you move on, whoever he pitches against next, I don’t think confidence is ever going to be a factor. He can get out good hitters.
“Today was kind of a weird day and it seemed like it got in the way of the game for a couple innings there. You don’t want to see that happen.”
5. DEAD AND BURIED?
As we wrote prior to Sunday’s game against Detroit, even despite the injuries to Carrasco and Salazar — and there’s no sugarcoating it, those were critical losses — the Indians have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to overcoming adversity.
There’s a really good chance that the injury to Carrasco may have ended any good shot of Cleveland advancing deep in October. And I’m not sure anyone really thinks it’s a stretch to say that.
At the same time, the Indians have made a habit of proving doubters wrong in 2016.
Whether it’s an early season injury to Carrasco, Salazar’s various arm issues, only getting 11 games of production from Michael Brantley or seeing Yan Gomes struggle to perform with the bat and losing their starting catcher to two big injuries, somehow Cleveland has maintained a comfortable lead in the AL Central and are positioned to potentially win their first division crown since 2007.
Others haven’t been as willing to give the Indians that same benefit. And that’s their right to have that opinion. When it’s all said and done, they might be correct. It’s difficult to imagine Cleveland overcoming the next gigantic hurdle which lies in their postseason path.
But by overcoming obstacle after obstacle, they’ve at least earned the right to see how they try to piece it together in the final weeks of September and beyond.
“Don’t get me wrong: It absolutely sucks, losing those two guys,” Gimenez said. “That’s something that’s going to be difficult to come back from. But if there is a team that’s capable of doing it, it’s this team. We’ve played without Brantley the entire year and have been doing OK. We’ve played spurts without Danny and Carlos and we’ve managed to do OK.
“I think everybody in here, it almost makes you have a little bit more motivation, because you want to do it so bad for those guys who aren’t here to help us do it in their own right.”
And as for anyone doubting the club’s ability to fight through the most recent bit of adversity, Bauer offered one last parting thought: “I know some people have said the season is over. They pronounced it yesterday, wrote articles about it. I think it’s complete [bull].”