The Indians played the kind of team baseball Saturday afternoon against the Colorado Rockies that may seem so simple to most fans, yet isn’t always easy to accomplish.
Of course the Tribe had already proven that more than enough times this season, which is why Saturday’s 7-6 victory was impressive. On a gorgeous – albeit windy – afternoon at Progressive Field, the Indians produced a game that featured solid starting pitching and hefty offensive production. Both were even backed by a major-league caliber defense that had been missing throughout a majority of the first two months of the season.
Starting pitcher Trevor Bauer was able to pitch out of trouble to keep a lead intact. The Tribe’s batsmen backed him with a big inning early and then score the winning run late to pick up the back end of the bullpen after it uncharacteristically blew the hold.
In between it all, Lonnie Chisenhall continued to hit left-handed pitching, reserve Mike Aviles drove in four runs from the nine-hole – including the game winner – which happened to score Jason Kipnis, who had the day off.
“A left-hander on the mound, a left-handed hitter on deck,” Aviles said, “I figured he wasn't going to give me anything on the plate. So I tried to be patient, which really isn't my style. But I got one to hit and was lucky enough that it fell in.”
Got all that? Here, let’s start from the beginning.
Bauer had thrown just 24 pitches over the first two innings when his offense handed the right-hander a four-run second inning featuring Chisenhall’s first RBI hit off Rockies left-hander Franklin Morales followed by a three-run home run by Aviles.
But the Rockies answered with a pair of third-inning runs that cut the defeicit in half. The rally was aided by a tough-luck throwing error by Tribe right fielder David Murphy. With one out, Bauer walked Wilin Rosario and D.J. Le Mahieu smashed a double off the right field corner wall that Murphy played well. But his throw to second hit the runner and richocheted into left field, allowing Rosario to score.
Charlie Blackmonfollowed with a RBI bloop hit and Michael Cuddyer poked his bat out just enough to slice the ball through the right side of the infield to put two on with only one out. As Bauer struggled with his command while pitching out of the stretch, a double steal put Blackmon and Cuddyer in scoring position.
But Bauer showed his growing maturity in rebounding by strike out Carlos Gonzalez swinging and Troy Tulowitzki looking to get out of the jam with limited damage. He finished the game with a career-high tying eight strikeouts, limiting the Rockies to the two runs on four hits and awalk.
“For the most part he was really good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He had the inning where he threw some cutters - and they were making some adjustments to him also – and he threw them up over the plate and they hit the ball to right pretty hard. But then he came right back against the heart of the order and had a quick inning…he ended up striking out two of the best hitters in baseball.”
Chisenhall added a 422-foot two-run home run off Morales in the sixth that pushed the Indians lead back to four runs and made him 9-for-16 against lefties this season.
Bauer’s 32-pitch inning was the only bump he encountered, as he rebounded with three scoreless innings before giving way the bullpen to start the seventh.
But in a rarity, seventh-inning set up man Scott Atchison struggled, dishing up three runs in just 1/3 of an inning, including a Corey Dickeron solo home run. Atchison’s replacement, lefty Josh Outman, threw just one pitch. But it also went for a home run – a three-run shot that marked Blackmon’s career-high 10th of the season and knotted the score 6-6.
Francona finally found a reliever to stop the bleeding in the seventh in Bryan Shaw, who struck out Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez to end the inning. In the eighth, Francona told Kipnis to grab a bat to start the inning as a pinch hitter. He produced a pinch walk instead, which worked as well.
Chisenhall used a sacrifice bunt to move Kipnis to second and Aviles drove him in with a game-winning single. In the top of the ninth, Cody Allen finished off the Rockies in the ninth for his third save.
“Kip walks, Lonnie (Chisenhall) gets a great bunt down and Mikey (Aviles) throws it into right and that’s exactly what we needed,” Francona said.