If Indians manager Terry Francona was interested in seeing how his team would respond to Friday’s night error-filled debacle, he didn’t have to wait long Saturday.
It only took three innings in Saturday’s game against the visiting Houston Astros to determine there was indeed a bit more grief in store. But unlike the previous night’s loss where the Indians offense failed to deliver in the clutch due to a pair of late base-running blunders by veteran utility man Mike Aviles and rookie Tyler Holt, Holt and the Indians redeemed themselves in a 3-2 walk-off victory.
Holt was once again at the center of the late action, leading off the bottom of the ninth inning with a pinch-hit, first-pitch single. The speedster advanced to second on Roberto Perez’s sacrifice bunt, took third with one out on a wild pitch by reliever Jake Buchanan and scored on Jose Ramirez’s game-winning single.
Ramirez's full-count single up the middle marked the Tribe’s American-League leading 10th walk off win of the season and the first by Ramirez at any level as a professional.
“To his credit, for a young player coming off the bench, (Holt) was ready to hit," Francona said. "Roberto getting two bunts down put us in a situation where if (Ramirez got) a hit, we win. It’s a fun way to mix in. With the youth you need some patience, but you can also see what they can do.”
But long before all the giddiness ensued, the Astros opened the scoring in the third inning on a Jose Altuve’s RBI single to right field - that coupled with the Tribe’s A.L. leading 100th error of season - turned into a two-run play.
Right fielder Chris Dickerson came up throwing home in an attempt to make a play at the plate. But the ball bounced and skipped past rookie catcher Perez, which wouldn’t have been much of a problem except that Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar forgot to back up home plate, allowing Robbie Grossman to score.
“I was thinking, you know like, to get back there," Salazar said. "But I just stood there, like right in the middle of the infield.”
After the game, Salazar sounded like he still didn't know exactly what happened. But Francona was frank about how costly it was.
"When he didn't back up the plate, it probably cost him the win," he said.
But it didn't cost the Tribe the game as the Indians offense began to dig out of the early hole right away – with a little help from the Astros. With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Ramirez lined a double into the right centerfield gap. Michael Brantley snapped an 0-for-15 skid when he followed by depositing a hanging curveball into right field.
What should have been a close play at the plate instead went for a Brantley RBI as Astros starting pitcher Collin McHugh inexplicably cut off the throw a couple feet in front of the catcher. However, like Salazar, McHugh should have backed up the plate instead. Instead, Ramirez’s run cut the visitor’s lead in half.
On next play, McHugh suffered another brain cramp when he didn’t cover first base in time to take a throw from second baseman Altuve, allowing Santana to reach safely and Brantley to advance to third.
McHugh was so rattled by the back-to-back defensive miscues, he walked a patient Jason Kipnis to load the bases – the fourth Indian to reach base with two outs. That brought Tribe newcomer Zach Walters to the plate, he of the five homeruns in his first 10 games with the Indians.
But instead of once again delivering in the clutch, Walters sent a broken-bat liner to the shortstop to end the threat – another wasted opportunity to tie the game or even go ahead and erase their early mistake. Instead, McHugh escaped without further harm as the Astros maintained a one-run lead.
But the Tribe’s offense came back in the fourth inning to tie the score 2-2 when Lonnie Chisenhall led off with his second single of the game, took second on a Dickerson single, third on Perez’s sacrifice bunt and then scored on Michael Bourn’s RBI groundout.
The Indians were unable to take advantage of another Astros fundamental breakdown in the eighth inning. After reliever Jose Veras issued a leadoff walk to Santana, Kipnis followed with a fielder’s choice. But A leaping, spinning throw by everywhere man Altuve was high to the shortstop covering the second base bag, and with no one covering third, Santana turned the error into an extra base. But with runners in scoring position at second and third, pinch hitter Aviles struck out to end the threat.