Cleveland (92. 3 the Fan) – When asked about what made Houston special, every Cleveland Indian interviewed made note of the fact that there are no holes on the Astros roster, one-through-nine in the lineup, top-to-bottom in the bullpen.
The Indians emerged from their early-season set against the predicted AL West champions with a 2-1 series win, with much thanks going to the performance of their lesser-hyped players in the rubber match.
The normally unflappable Corey Kluber took the hill in Game 3, but got into serious trouble early, loading the bases with one out. Kluber was able to get to two outs with a strikeout of Evan Gattis, but it was Abraham Almonte’s leaping catch in right field that turned a potential 4-0 lead into a scoreless top of the first.
Kluber, Almonte and manager Terry Francona all acknowledged the fact that the outcome of the game would have been much in doubt if the right fielder did not make the play. But it was a gold glover at shortstop, Francisco Lindor, who put it definitively.
“He won the game right there. He won the game,” Lindor said. “Abe, the way he went after that ball, I think he had a play like that earlier in the year, but he didn’t get to it. He kind of slowed down as he was getting to the ball, and the ball hit the wall. Today, he went all out.”
As it goes in baseball, a brilliant defensive play begets a game-changing at-bat, and that recurring theme did not escape Almonte. Trailing 3-1 in the 5th inning, Almonte led off the frame with his first home run of the year, putting things in range for Lindor to give the team a win with his two-run shot in the 7th.
Almonte could not pick between the two plays as his favorite.
“Both. Because both helped my team to win. That’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “It was feeling good, man. You know me. I was helping my team to win, and especially in that situation, a tie game, not scoring a lot of runs and to hit a home run, it’s always a good feeling.”
The eight-hitter was not the only bottom of the lineup hitter to make his impact felt. The much maligned Yan Gomes was 1-for-1 with a double and two walks.
But in a one-run game, Gomes’ prowess behind the plate again proved instrumental, catching Nori Aoki stealing in the 4th with the middle of the lineup coming up.
More importantly, Gomes gunned down Jose Altuve after a pinch-hit single in the top of the 9th, as the second baseman would have scored on the backs of singles from Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran that followed.
“We pitch out so infrequently because our catchers throw so well,” Francona said. “The first one, Aoki, had such a good jump. Gomer didn’t have time to come up and set his feet and he still got enough on it. On the last one, Frankie made a great play to make the pick and continue with the tag.”
On top of the Tribe’s 4-3 win on Thursday, it cannot be overlooked that the team’s fourth and fifth starters allowed 7 runs over 12 innings against a loaded lineup. That was enough to split a set against the Astros’ top two pitchers, a former Cy Young winner, and another contender for the award.