CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Monday night’s Indians-Red Sox series opener had everything.
Home runs, video replays, injuries to key players, injuries to umpires, managers bypassing their closers, managers using their closers in non-save situations, walk-off non-suicide sacrifice bunts; you name it, it happened.
But what Monday’s 5-4 walk-off winner had above all was a playoff atmosphere, a potential ALDS rematch from a year ago that felt like such, and had all of the standard quirkiness of playoff baseball.
By the end of the night, the Indians did what they had to do despite some rough circumstances, and the Red Sox did not. It won’t matter until October, but it bodes well in late August.
Similar to the adversity the defending American League Champions faced a year ago, pitching health come screaming back to the forefront in the 7th inning when Andrew Miller aggravated his right patellar tendinitis. Also similarly, the Indians bullpen picked up Miller and starter Mike Clevinger by throwing 4 2/3 innings of one-hit baseball.
Dan Otero spearheaded the effort once Miller left the game, throwing two perfect innings that included a double-play and two strikeouts. He did so on the back of a two-inning effort on Sunday.
“I don’t want to harp on it too much, but we’ve been in those situations before,” Otero said. “It’s like we’ve always talked about: Whenever our number is called, we’re ready. We actually live by that adage. Not many bullpens can honestly say that.”
The Tribe offense spread their hits around, but nobody was bigger offensively than catcher Roberto Perez. With shades of the 2016 ALDS against the Red Sox, Perez gave the Indians the lead with a three-run home run before laying down a sacrifice bunt that wound up as a walk-off thanks to Brock Holt’s throwing error.
Just a .177 hitter to date, Perez has done his best work in the clutch as he did Monday night and a year ago. Such contributions will be needed again come October.
“It’s awesome to see him have success,” closer Cody Allen said. “He’s so good behind the plate. He takes so much pride in it. He also puts in a ton of work at the plate, too. Whenever we can get that type of production out of Roberto, it’s awesome.”
Defensively, the Indians remained sharp, posting their fourth straight errorless game. Clevinger fielded his position twice in the 1st inning, Giovanny Urshela snared two sharp liners in the 3rd, and Perez almost cascaded into the dugout while fielding a key pop-up off of the bat of the red-hot Andrew Benintendi.
But Allen got two key defensive efforts in the top of the 9th to retain the lead as center fielder Bradley Zimmer played a deep single from Christian Vazquez off the wall and rifled it into second base to keep the catcher at first base. Francisco Lindor ended the inning by playing a Texas-leaguer from Mookie Betts into his glove on an over-the-shoulder grab.
“Those are kind of game-savers there,” Allen said. “You put them together, because if Zim doesn’t keep the guy at first base, the next ball, he probably tags and goes to third on and you’re looking at third and one out.
“Don’t overlook that play.”