Thirteen final thoughts after a stunning balk-off victory at Progressive Field
1. I know the Indians were only 10.5 games back going into the just-completed three-game series with the Tigers. But it still seemed like the season was slipping away with the AL Central-leading Tigers coming to town for three games, followed by a four-game series against the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles.
2. But instead of stumbling, they swept the Tigers after going 4-15 against them in 2013. The Indians now lead the season series 4-1. Instead of faltering, the Indians seemed to find themselves.
3. Right fielder David Murphy suggested the turning point may have come in Monday's hitters' meeting, a normal session held before every series. Murphy said several players spoke up and said they were tired of their inconsistency and needed to tighten up offensively and play like they were capable.
4. The result was 22 runs and 43 hits in three days.
5. Two of those efforts came against the Tigers' Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, who have won two of the last three Cy Young awards. Scherzer's came last season, Verlander's in 2011. Scherzer gave up seven runs on 12 hits in seven innings, a feat in itself considering he threw 55 pitches through two innings. "It’s not every day you’re able to do that against Scherzer, an elite pitcher," Indians starter Zach McAllister said. "For us to do that, I can’t say enough about about our offense."
6. It was also a feat considering the Indians trailed 4-0 after a half inning. “I love the way we battle," Murphy said. "We got down early. A few weeks ago we didn’t really show a whole lot of fight, things weren’t working out. That could have easily been the point in the game where we just weren’t able to overcome that lead. From our very first at-bat you knew our offense was going to be up to something today. It was a lot of fun to watch. I wish it hadn’t taken 51/2 hours, but it was a lot of fun.” (Actually 5:16, it was the longest game at Progressive Field since Aug. 30, 2008, a 14-12 loss to the Tigers that lasted 5:33.
7. Murphy's two-run home run in the ninth inning that sent the game to extra innings may have gotten somewhat overlooked in the post-game hoopla. He was facing Tigers' closer Joe Nathan. "A situation like that, getting a big hit like that, lifting their teammates, there’s not really a better feeling," Murphy said. "I wasn’t looking for a particular pitch, I was tyring to get something in the middle of the plate. He threw me a curveball the first pitch and I saw it pretty well and it was down. The same pitch it was middle and it was a little bit up in the zone. Got out in front of it. I thought it was going to be a double right off the bat, but the ball was carrying well to right today. It was a great feeling when it carried out of here."
8. Michael Brantley came through with the game's most clutch hit when he singled through the hole at shortstop in the 13th to drive in the tying run. "Murphy has gotten so many big hits for us," Francona said. "Brantley continues to be so good in so many areas, whether it’s defensively or on the bases, certainly hitting. He’s turning into a premier player. Kind of like Kip got it going last year during that run. Brantley is one of the better players in the league right now."
9. Francona almost mentioned Michael Bourn's sacrifice bunt in the 13th inning that set Mike Aviles to second and set the table for Brantley. "That’s a thing that’s been hard for him, he’s struggled at times to do it," Francona said. "That kid (third baseman Nick Castellanos) made a great play, he barehands it and throws him out."
10. The Tigers arrived with a six-game winning streak. "Detroit was really hot when they came in here," right-hander Josh Tomlin said. "For us to take care of buiness, hopefully that builds momentum as we go on the road."
11. Manager Terry Francona acknowledged the importance of the sweep, especially when the Indians were swept at home by the Oakland A's in the previous series. "We needed it," he said. "When you get swept, you’ve got to come back. That’s what we did a really good job of. Now we’ve got to regroup quickly, figure some things out and go play another good team."
12. I'll write more about Tomlin tomorrow, but I was impressed with how he pitched three relief innings and got the victory when he was scheduled to start on Thursday in Baltimore. He said his arm was in good shape and that he felt great, but I'm not sure others would have been as willing to jump into the fray of such a circus game. Stunningly, he said he doesn't believe he's ever struck out the side like he did in the 11th. Asked how long he was going to leave Tomlin in, Francona said, "Probably til we won or lost. Not a whole lot of options after that. I did tell him ‘If at any point you feel (tired), you’ve got to tell me.’"
13. But the Indians did leave themselves some interesting discussions for the plane ride to Baltimore. They used nine pitchers in the 13-inning game, including Thursday's starter. Will they push the starters up a day? Bring back Danny Salazar from Triple-A Columbus to keep most of the rotation on schedule? In his first appearance of the season for Columbus Tuesday, Salazar gave up five runs on six hits in 2.2 innings in a 5-3 loss to Syracuse. He walked three and struck out one, ending the evening with a 16.88 ERA. Not sure he's really the answer. Thursday will be a very interesting day.