CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Brandon Guyer became the ninth different member of the Indians to deliver a walk-off plate appearance, lining a ball into the right field corner for a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, as Cleveland beat the Kansas City Royals, 2-1.
This column presents my takeaways from Tuesday’s game. For more baseball analysis and insight, follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
As reporters entered the clubhouse following Tuesday’s game, the smooth sounds of Pantera’s “Walk” echoed into the hallways outside the Indians’ locker room.
For a team that feels disrespected by doubters, it was well played. And appropriate.
Guyer’s line drive single down the right field line, a two-out shot which just evaded the glove of a diving Paulo Orlando in deep right, gave Cleveland their MLB-leading 11th walk-off victory of the 2016 campaign — nine of which coming from different players on the roster.
In fact, of the 11 game-winning plate appearances, only Jose Ramirez and Tyler Naquin have been mobbed by their teammates in the postgame celebration more than once.
Here is the updated list of walk-off winners for the Indians this season:
- June 1 vs. Texas: Yan Gomes RBI single
- June 2 vs. Kansas City: Mike Napoli sacrifice fly
- June 17 vs. Chicago: Carlos Santana solo homer
- June 19 vs. Chicago: Jose Ramirez RBI single
- July 26 vs. Washington: Francisco Lindor RBI single
- August 18 vs. Chicago: Tyler Naquin sacrifice fly
- August 19 vs. Toronto: Tyler Naquin inside-the-park home run
- August 29 vs. Minnesota: Jason Kipnis RBI single
- September 4 vs. Miami: Lonnie Chisenhall RBI single
- September 17 vs. Detroit: Jose Ramirez RBI single
- September 20 vs. Kansas City: Brandon Guyer RBI single
The fact that the Indians have had so many late-game heroes also feels appropriate. Cleveland, throughout most of the season, has received contributions from nearly every part of their roster. And that’s the way they were built and need to succeed.
“It says on any given night, it could be anybody,” Guyer said. “Tonight it was me. But really any night, if anyone’s got the opportunity, we all have full confidence that anyone can come through. It’s just really fun to be on a team like that.”
Tuesday’s starter Josh Tomlin agreed with Guyer’s assessment, but also believes the ability for any given player on any given night to step up speaks to a bigger thought about the collection of individuals working together as one.
“I think it’s just the group of people we have in that clubhouse,” he said. “Everybody roots for each other. The definition of ‘team’ is in that clubhouse. Everybody loves hanging out with each other, loves playing cards with each other. It’s just a good group of guys to be around every day. We try to get to the ballpark pretty early and everybody is always in a good mood, joking around, having a good time. It’s just loose and everybody enjoys everybody.
“It’s not surprising to me hearing that, that there’s nine different guys out of 11 that have done it. It’s not surprising. We have a good team. That’s all there is to it. We have a great team.”
Cleveland was in position to emerge with a victory on Tuesday night largely thanks to another gutsy effort turned in by Tomlin on the mound, his second consecutive quality outing after a tremendously rough month of August (11.48 ERA in six starts).
Tomlin was efficient, limiting Kansas City hitters to just one run on five hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out three. Over his last 12 2/3 frames since the end of August, the righty has limited hitters to just a pair of runs on 10 hits, striking out six (1.42 ERA).
Outwardly, the Indians are pleased with Tomlin’s most recent three outings. Inwardly, they must be doing mental backflips, knowing the current state of their rotation, one which will not feature Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in the playoffs, and how much they could benefit from a return to first-half form by Tomlin.
So, what’s been the difference? Like most situations, it’s a combination of a few factors. The execution of Tomlin’s pitches has been much better. Far fewer balls have leaked over fat parts of the plate at critical times. In addition, the righty has been far less reliant on the cutter over his two most recent starts, opting to go with a more balanced mix of four-seam fastballs, cutters, curveballs and sinkers.
But perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of Tomlin’s last two starts has been the brief rest period he received after being removed from the rotation at the end of last month. The veteran hurler never felt tired, his arm felt good, but even he can notice a difference in his pitch quality in his recent innings.
“The ball was just a little crispier in the zone,” Tomlin said. “It says the same thing on the radar gun, but if you kind of look at some of the swings guys are taking, you can kind of tell when your stuff is sharp and when it’s not sharp. So, physically, I feel like I was in a good spot in August, but the ball wasn’t coming out of my hand the same way it has in my last couple starts. There might’ve been something to it.”
3. STEP UP
Tomlin also knows, given the recent injuries to Salazar and Carrasco, the rotation is under the microscope. And that is magnified when it comes to Tomlin and rookie Mike Clevinger.
One, if not both, will need to step up in October. Cleveland will need at least three starters. Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer are locks. Beyond that? That’s something that will be worked through over the final two weeks of the regular season.
“Both of us, we know we have to step up,” Tomlin said. “We know we have to try to go out there and log innings and keep us in the game. We’re up for the challenge. We’re ready for it, and we’re trying to do the best we can to try to help win the Central and get into the playoffs and play deep into the playoffs.”
4. LOOKS GOOD
With a runner at third base in the seventh — not just any runner, the speedy Terrance Gore to be exact — Andrew Miller didn’t hesitate to throw his normal mix of sliders and fastballs, even despite the possibility of one finding the backstop and the Royals tying the game.
His faith in catcher Roberto Perez’s ability to block anything thrown his direction was the main reason why. In fact, in his short time with the Indians, Miller has gained an incredible appreciation for the work Perez puts in behind the plate.
“I think the way he receives the ball, the way he blocks the plate, calls a game [is great],” Miller said. “I think I’ve been fortunate to throw to a lot of good catchers. It’s just been a lot of fun to get to see him. I think he’s helping us out a lot. He gives us the ability to just go out there and throw whatever we want. He’s going to knock it down, make it look like a strike, whatever it is. He’s pretty awesome.”
As for making it look like a strike, Perez contribute a pair of frame jobs to help Miller out of the jam in the inning, presenting a couple offerings from the filthy lefty in the most appetizing of ways. And it appeared to work, getting a couple of strike three calls on borderline pitches down and in.
As far as framing goes, Perez has always graded out well behind the plate and continues to serve as one of baseball’s best catchers when it comes to getting a few extra calls for his pitchers.
This season, per Stat Corner’s catcher report, Perez ranks first in the AL in added strike calls per game (among catchers with sample sizes of 2,000 or more) and third in runs above average (5.5).
It’s that sort of production added behind the dish that makes him a valuable player despite an overall offensive slash line this season that leaves a lot to be desired.