CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The Colorado Rockies struck for their only run before making any outs against the Indians on Tuesday. The Indians waited until they were down to their last out to score all of theirs.
On another night where Corey Kluber was electric, tossing his fourth complete game while allowing just three hits and striking out 11, the offense was again punchless after scoring two runs in as many games.
The game came as far down to the wire for the home team as a grain of wood on an 0-2 slider from Greg Holland to Austin Jackson, which the veteran outfielder nicked by the slightest of margins.
Jackson saw two balls and then fouled two more off before blooping a single into right field, just in between centerfielder Charlie Blackmon and right fielder Carlos Gonzalez, to tie the game. It was his first career hit off of Holland.
When catcher Yan Gomes came up to the plate for the next at-bat, eventually winning the game on a three-run homer to left-center, he almost thanked Jackson.
“Austin did a tremendous job, got the run in. It almost takes the pressure off of you,” Gomes said. “To be honest, I was just thinking, ‘He’s going to pop some sliders in there, try to get me to chase,’ and I was going to be aggressive no matter what. I was just trying to work small, up the middle, try and get a nice base hit so we can win it and I got a little bit better pitch than that.”
That pressure was palpable as the ball hung in the air off of Jackson’s bat, with an eruption of cheers when it fell in.
Manager Terry Francona admitted he thought the ball would carry too far into the glove of either of the Rockies outfielders. In truth, the bloop may have fallen in as a balancing of the cosmic effect of the Indians’ eight outs with exit velocities of 95 mph or more.
The pivotal at-bat for Jackson was one of three battles he engaged in without a similar result. The eight-hitter fouled off four pitches before striking out on a 2-2 pitch in the third inning, and fouled off two more before flying out on a 2-2 pitch in the 8th.
The 30-year old right fielder said he had an idea of what the major league leader in saves was going to throw after falling into a bad count.
“I swung at two sliders, I think,” he said. “Really, off him, he likes to put guys away it seems like with a slider in the dirt. So, I was really trying to do my best to see a ball up and try to put a good swing on it, really.”
Even Jackson’s at-bat would not have happened had Edwin Encarnacion had a similar battle with Holland, fouling off five pitches en route to a walk and setting up pinch runner Brandon Guyer to score the tying run.
Holland also walked Bradley Zimmer on four-pitches, and looked back on the two bases on balls as what swung the game.
“Walking the tying run and the winning run was the key to the inning,” the closer said. “Edwin had a good at-bat. The walk to Zimmer was more on me. I don’t think he ever swung. Jackson had a good at-bat. I thought it was a fly ball off the bat. He just hit it in a perfect spot.”
When it was time for Gomes to win the game seconds after Jackson tied it, the time for patience had passed. Holland had thrown 30 pitches already, and all the Indians catcher needed was one fastball, middle-in.
After the win, Jackson, Gomes and Zimmer were all excited – née relieved – to have gotten Kluber a win, let alone avoid a loss. Even Gomes, basking in the adrenaline of a game-winner, was excited to recount the walks and flares that gave him an opportunity.
“That was unbelievable, man,” Gomes said. “It was some battle at-bats, too. Austin found the hole out there, but he battled his tail off. That’s the best closer in the NL, and maybe in the major leagues right now. We’ve seen him plenty of times, I think we all know a little about him. We were just trying to put some good at-bats together and trying to get a win for Corey.
The catcher said he did not know that the ball was gone when he connected with it, but knew the game was over one way or the other.
That is when the relief set in.
“It’s been one of those things,” Gomes added. “He deserves that kind of finish, I guess. I wish we could have done it a little less stressful, but I’ll take it.”