CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians officially eliminated the Kansas City Royals from the American League Central Division race, winning Wednesday’s matchup, 4-3.
This column presents my takeaways from Wednesday’s game. For more baseball analysis and insight, follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. ON THE MONEY
When Cody Allen gave up a solo homer to Salvador Perez leading off the top of the ninth — the solo bomb brought Kansas City within a run — the door opened for speedy designated pinch-runner Terrance Gore to later become a factor in Wednesday’s game.
And sure enough, when Allen then walked Alex Gordon, the Royals immediately brought the speedster into the contest.
Not only is Gore’s job to steal a base late in games for Kansas City, but he’s quite proficient at it. In fact, he had never been caught stealing before in his Major League career (17-for-17).
After a couple throws over to first and a first-pitch ball in the exchange with Alcides Escobar, Allen set and fired to Perez and Gore took off for second base.
The pitch found the outside portion of the strike zone, Perez caught the low-outside offering and popped up, firing the ball to shortstop Francisco Lindor, who was covering second base on the play.
The ball arrived just ahead of the speedy Gore, who entered his feet-first slide just as Lindor caught the ball and applied the tag on the attempted base stealer.
With no hesitation, second base umpire Scott Barry gave an emphatic out call, as Gore was cut down trying to steal a base for the first time in his Major League career, becoming the first out of the inning.
Not only was the throw impressive, but it also came at a critical time for the Indians. Instead of the tying run reaching second with nobody out, Gore’s failed steal attempt allowed Allen to settle down, getting Escobar to ground out to second and Cheslor Cuthbert to line out to center field to end Wednesday’s game.
2. NOT SO FAST
Perez hasn’t just been one of baseball’s best pitch framers this season (we spent some time addressing that in last night’s Extra Frames, expect a bigger post on it in the very near future), but his ability to cut down would-be basestealers and control the running game has been pretty valuable to Cleveland when behind the plate this season.
Among American League catchers with at least 50 games played behind the plate in 2016, Perez entered Wednesday’s game tied for the third-best caught stealing percentage (44.4 percent).
As demonstrated in Cleveland’s win over Kansas City, the possibility of picking up a few outs on the bases can be the difference between a win or tie game.
“I take a lot of pride in my defense, regardless if I’m hitting or not,” Perez said. “I love that part of the game, throwing guys out.”
Certainly, the Indians’ pitchers appreciate the assist from their catchers, Perez in particular.
“Between him and Yan [Gomes], those are the two best throwing catchers that I’ve seen in the big leagues,” Allen said. “That’s a credit. Those guys really work at what they do and they take a lot of pride in it.
“He freaking caught it, got rid of it and put it right on the bag. That was probably the quickest I’ve ever been to the plate. Roberto’s put up some really low numbers, but … he put it on the bag. That was huge. He bailed me out right there.”
Of course, catchers are only part of the equation when it comes to throwing out potential basestealers. And from that perspective, Perez gave Allen some credit.
“I was trying to give him the slide-step sign, which I think I did and he got it,” Perez said. “I was glad that he gave me a chance, and I was ready to throw him out.”
3. SAME GUY
Corey Kluber has become so consistently masterful recently that an outing like Wednesday’s — 6 1/3 innings, six hits, two runs, two walks, nine strikeouts — can become an afterthought. In some ways, that’s a shame, but it’s also a testament to how good Kluber has been for Cleveland over the past several seasons.
Another solid effort by the club’s ace keeps the righty in the thick of AL Cy Young Award conversation. Ho-hum. Another day at the office for Kluber.
“He’s so consistent that he’s the same guy every five days,” manager Terry Francona said. “I mean that as the biggest compliment you can give somebody.
“He probably had a few more pitches in him, I just, when we get [Andrew] Miller up, because he had thrown an inning and 2/3 last night, I wanted to get him in so we don’t waste it.”
And Kluber just keeps getting better: The righty owns a 2.81 ERA over last 28 starts, a 2.56 ERA over past 20 starts and a 2.32 ERA over past 14 starts (h/t MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian).
Given the uncertainty surrounding the Indians’ potential playoff rotation — injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar have clouded one of the team’s strengths — the steadiness of Kluber’s contributions cannot be overlooked or overstated.
Quite simply, Cleveland needs every bit of the righty’s consistency if they are to overcome yet another seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
4. MR. CLUTCH
At some point, Jose Ramirez has to slow down, right? I mean, right? Can he really just continue to be one of baseball’s most valuable hitters — at least in terms of Win Probability Added (he’s fifth in the AL) — for the rest of the season?
Well, what about his performance leads you to believe he’s going to slow down anytime soon?
The 24-year-old infielder is seemingly immune to regression, continuing to provide big hits, drive in runs and knock the ball into gaps all over America.
Ramirez picked up three doubles on Wednesday night, driving in the go-ahead run with his third of the trio in the bottom of the fifth, giving the switch-hitter 42 doubles on the campaign.
Additionally, Ramirez became just the fifth player in franchise history to collect at least 10 homers, 40 doubles and 20 steals in a single season, joining Roberto Alomar, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Brantley on the rather exclusive list.
It’s fitting that Ramirez and Brantley are now part of the same club, given how much like Brantley the young Ramirez has been throughout most of the 2016 season, seemingly coming through in any clutch situation he is presented with.
“He’s been one of the better hitters in the league,” Kluber said. “Anytime you can put that in your lineup, it’s a plus. He’s getting clutch hits, playing great defense. There’s not really an area where he’s not contributing.”