Final thoughts after Zach Walters hit his sixth home run in 13 games, a two-run blast off right-hander Jake Petricka in the 10th inning to give the Indians the victory.
1. I don’t know who in the Indians’ baseball operations department first spotted Walters. General manager Chris Antonetti has said that the Tribe has liked him for a while. It’s possible they liked him in the 2010 draft, when the Arizona Diamondbacks selected Walters in the ninth round. But if the Indians make the playoffs, tabbing Walters as the player they wanted in the July 31 trade with the Washington Nationals for Asdrubal Cabrera might turn out to be the biggest move in getting them in.
2. Since the Indians called up Walters from Triple-A Columbus on Aug. 10, when they were in New York facing the Yankees, Walters has shown he doesn’t hit homers in routs. He hits them when they count. Four of his six have come when the game was tied, two when the Indians trailed by a run. Until Tuesday, his biggest was a ninth-inning walkoff on Aug. 13 in the first game of a home double-header against Arizona.
3. Add in his brief time with the Nationals and Walters has 18 hits this season and nine are home runs. Two of his three with Washington came in blowouts, but the other was with the game tied in the top of the eighth at Miami.
4. Asked if he has a knack for such situations, Walters turned to his goof-ball side (which he has been known to do with the Tribe) and gave perhaps the best answer of any Indian all year.
5. “It’s for the kids. I eat my spinach and I drink milk, that’s the only reason why,” he said. “I get offended, too, when someone called out there, ‘You’re not a big guy. What’s with the home runs?’ I’m like, ‘That’s rude. I work my tail off.’” (Walters is a lithe 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds.)
6. “I’m trying to get over that learning curve, trying to be a little more consistent,” he added. “Hopefully I’ll put it together one of these days.”
7. The situation Walters faced in the 10th made what happened all the more surprising. Lonnie Chisenhall led off the inning with a pinch-hit double to right field. Manager Terry Francona told Walters he didn’t care how he did it, but Chisenhall better be at third base when Walters came back to the dugout.
8. Walters said he hasn’t really bunted since college at the University of San Diego. He said his coach there was big on it, but in the minors he’s been allowed to swing away. Plus he was facing Petricka, who Walters said has a 97 mph fastball.
9. “(Francona) was like, ‘Hey, bunt.’ I was like, ‘Ooh, sure. I don’t know what you mean, but all right,’” Walters said. “I promise I’m a good bunter. I swear I’m a good bunter. Maybe a little anxiety of being the rookie, new place, new attitude, I guess.”
10. The count got to 2-0, then it got ugly.
11. “I’m hitting down in the lineup for a reason,” Walters said, referring to his .208 average with 15 strikeouts in 48 at-bats. “I’m like ‘I’ll bunt first.’ I got to a 2-0 count, took a swing, kind of timed his fastball, missed the bunt." The count got to 3-2. "I knew he was going to come at us," Walters said. "I wasn’t trying to hit the ball out, I was trying to hit the ball in play. I got lucky.”
12. Asked how he felt, Walters said, “After missing the bunt, freaking awesome.”
13. Walters came away still pondering how Petricka and catcher Tyler Flowers pitched him in that situation. “The guy throws 97, I’m not going to be looking for a changeup there,” Walters said. “I sucked those hands in as quick as I can. He’s a good pitcher. I’ve faced him before in the minors. I’m surprised he didn’t throw me any off-speed that whole at-bat.”
14. Francona said of Walters afterward, “Fortunately he didn’t get the bunt down. He’s a strong kid and there’s a lot of life in that bat and he’s that threat. His batting average might not be the highest, but there’s been a lot of home runs and they come at points in the game that really mean something. If he takes enough good swings, he’s going to run into some home runs.” Walters also had a single and went 2 for 4 with a walk.
15. Walters, 24, realizes how fortunate he is that the Indians not only traded for him, but found a spot for him after Nick Swisher and David Murphy went to the disabled list on the day he was called up.
16. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity the Indians have given me,” Walters said of the trade. “I was in a tough spot and it’s been a night and day difference over here. They’ve given me the keys to drive the car. They’re letting me play. All I ask for is at-bats to get consistent. They’re giving me that and I’m happy. Being DH is a little different because I feel like I’m not in the game, but I’m very thankful for that.”
17. I must admit that on the day of his call-up, I tweeted from outside the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium that it was Tony Wolters. And I think I messed that up more than once as I deleted and retweeted. Needless to say, that won’t happen again.
18. Indians left-hander T.J. House, who started the game and got no decision, said he tells Walters he doesn’t want to face him.
19. “We needed something like that,” House said. “I want to say all six of his home runs are very important, whether they’ve tied the game or taken the lead, it’s been big. When you have a guy in the lineup who can change the game with one swing, it’s awesome. It’s awesome to watch. He’s a young guy trying to make a name for himself and it’s fun.”
20. I left U.S. Cellular Field imagining the irony if right-hander Trevor Bauer and Walters become key pieces of the Indians’ franchise. The Diamondbacks gave up on Bauer, trading the former first-round pick to the Indians in December, 2012. The Diamondbacks traded Walters, a ninth-round pick, to the Nationals on July 30, 2011.
21. House perhaps best summed up the urgency the Indians face as they began a string of 30 games in 30 days Tuesday. They ended the night in third place in the AL Central, 51/2 games behind division-leading Kansas City. In the wild card race, they’re 41/2 out of the second spot, with the Tigers (1/2 game out) and Yankees (31/2 games out) ahead of them.
22. “We know exactly where we are and we know we have to turn it on at this moment in time if we expect to catch anyone, whether it’s the wild card or the division,” House said. “But I don’t think we’re pushing or forcing anything. I think we’re more relaxed than at any part of the season I’ve been up here. Guys are having fun and you see the results that are happening right now.”
23. Walters’ spinach and milk quip is a testament to that.