On a night that included the unveiling of Jim Thome’s statue – and his surprise announcement of signing a one-day honorary contract with the Tribe so that he could retire as an Indian – the crowd of 28,285 were treated to one more reason to celebrate on a memorable August evening.
This 2014 Indians squad may not be as exciting as Thome’s 1990’s teams, but they are a scrappy bunch that Saturday rode a rookie starting pitcher and one of the best bullpens in the major leagues to a 2-0 victory over the Texas Rangers.
With Thome and his family and guests watching from one of the suites above, Indians left-hander T.J. House was as sharp as he’s been in during his rookie season. House started the game with five-plus shutout innings that included seven strikeouts – one shy of tying his career high.
House left the game having pitched to two batters in the sixth, both reaching base - leadoff man Elvis Andrus with a walk and Alex Rios with a base hit.
Figuring the rookie had more than done his job on the night, the puppet master that manager Terry Francona has become with his bullpen called for veteran reliever Scott Atchison to take over and face Rangers veteran slugger Adrian Beltre.
After House left to a standing ovation, Atchison quickly retired Beltre on a groundout to first base. Then, the graying 39-year-old father who looks more like a 50-year old grandfather and has become the constant butt of Scott-Atchison-is-so-old jokes, showed he’s not that old. Atchison chased and finally tagged out Andrus in a run down between third base and home on a J.P. Arencibia fielder’s choice.
“(Atchison) was not going to let (Andrus) get there,” closer Cody Allen said. “That was a huge play for us. Don’t let him fool you; Atch is a really good athlete. I mean, he’s out there dealing. He’s out here every day (with an arm that) bounces back. He’s thrown a ton of innings for us. He’s here for a reason – he’s a big part of the team.”
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway trotted out to the mound before Atchison faced the final batter of the inning in Leonys Martin, but probably just to give Atchison a breather more than to give him any advice.
Atchison responded by striking out young Martin. He even displayed a visible bounce in his step after as he pumped his fist and skipped to the dugout having stranded both of House’s runners to keep the shut out bid in tact.
With the pitching staff doing its part, the Tribe’s offense came to life against Rangers starting pitcher Miles Mikolas in the bottom of the inning. Lonnie Chisenhall snapped the scoreless tie and put the Tribe on the board with a RBI single that scored Jason Kipnis, who’d led off the sixth inning with a single.
Nick Swisher continued the rally with an RBI single of his own that scored Carlos Santana, who’d reached base on a two-out intentional walk.
That was all the offense the Tribe needed on this night, with the bullpen doing the rest. Nick Hagadone, Bryan Shaw and Allen combined to complete the shutout with 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
Although it wasn’t as quick of a ninth inning as Indians fans have become accustomed to out of Allen, who allowed the first two Rangers to reach base in the top of the ninth inning before recovering just in time.
“I felt great warming up in the ‘pen, great warming up on the field, I feel like I just lost it there for a little bit and I was really trying to reel it on and throw some strikes,” Allen said. Martin hit a good pitch and got it out there to right field. (pinch hitter Jim) Adduci put up a really, really good at bat, so I just tried to grind through it there, (thinking) if I give up a run, I give up a run. Just try to keep that second guy out there.”
But it never got that far as Allen, retired the next three batters to notch his 14th save of the season.