In most games when an opposing pitcher strikes out 11 batters, it would put him in line for a win.
Of course, when a closer loses all comand with two outs in the ninth inning and loads the bases to bring the tying run to the plate, it ought to put him in line for loss, as well.
Both happened in the Indians 6-3 win over the host Tampa Bay Rays Friday in the first game of a three-game weekend series at Tropicana Field, but neither produced the usual results. For the Indians, that was a good tihng.
Rays starter Jake Odorizzi had Indians hitters in tied up in knots through the first five innings, recording a career-high 11 before giving way to the bullpen.Odorizzi, who nearly doubled his previous career high strikeouts (six against Toronto last May), left the game with a 2-0 lead after throwing 101 pitches.
But it didn’t take the Indians long to take out their early plate frustrations on the Rays bullpen. Three of the Indians hits came via home runs, much to the delight of the loud and large crowd of Tribe fans sitting behind the visitor’s third-base dugout.
Asdrubal Cabreraled off the sixth inning with a solo shot that put the Tribe on the board in the sixth. Michael Brantley and Mike Aviles followed with homers of their own in the Indians five-run seventh, including Aviles’ three-run shot that put the game out of reach.
“The first five innings it didn't look like we were in a real good groove,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But I think the best thing we do is we play an entire game. When you keep grinding, you make some things happen. You give yourself a chance to win.”
Just four pitches after right-hander Brad Boxberger replaced Odorizzi, Cabrera’s homer marked his eighth hit (including five of the extra-base variety) over his pervious nine at bats – including Thursday’s controversial near cycle. Before his current hot stretch, Cabrera had hit just five extra-base hits in his previous 87 at-bats.
But Boxberger lasted just three more hitters after issuing a walk to Yan Gomes, hitting Lonnie Chisenhall and then an Aviles sacrifice that put both runners in scoring poisition with the top of the Indians order due up. Rays left-hander Jake McGee came on to settle down the Tribe briefly by getting the final two outs of the inning.
Brantley needed only two pitches in the seventh against Joel Peralta to record his seventh home run of the season that knotted the score, 2-2.
Rays manager Joe Maddon went to his bullpen yet again after Cabrera sent a seeing-eye single through the the left-side of a Rays defensive shift. But the Rays’ Brandon Gomes gave up a RBI single to the Indians’ Gomes that put the Tribe ahead 3-2. Aviles’ three-run shot put the game away for good.
“I think, honestly, us punching out as much as we did were able to run up the pitcher’s pitch count and get him out (of the game) kind of quick,” Aviles said. “In all honesty, he pitched well. The starting pitcher definitely had our number. It was a little unfortunate for them that he came out of the game a little early.”
The Rays had gone through five pitchers by the time Indians starter Corey Kluber’s night was over. Over 6 2/3 innings, Kluber limited the Rays to single runs in the fourth and fifth innings.
The Rays were close to putting some distance between themselves and the Indians in the sixth after James Loney and Evan Longoria led off the inning with back-to-back singles. But Kluber rebounded to strike out the side. In all, hescattered nine hits, struck out nine and did not issue a walk to improve his record to 3-3 on the season.
But after relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Bryan Shaw did their jobs in the seventh and eight innings, struggling closer John Axford continued to display command issues, despite working with a four-run lead in a non-save situation.
Axford quickly struck out the first two hitters before givin up a double to eight-hole batter Logan Forsythe, walked nine-hole hitter walked Ryan Hanigan and gave up a RBI single to leadoff man Dejesus before walking Ben Zobrist to load the bases.
Before the Rays could strike a final blow, Indians manager Terry Francona called on set-up man Cody Allen to clean up the mess. Allen battled Loney to a full count before inducing a towering pop up that right fielder David Murphy caught to end the game, preseve the win and hand Allen his first save of the season.
“The first two guys I felt good, the third guy I felt good,” Axford said. “I don't want to make excuses, I did lose a little more command. So I don't know if it was maybe a little more fatigue. I've thrown a lot recently and, obviously, you can only throw 25-30 pitches so many times an inning before its going to start catching up to you.”