CLEVELAND: Manager Terry Francona said the Indians would take a win “any way we can.”
The Tribe didn’t have to take anything Friday night at Progressive Field. The Houston Astros gave the Indians the game, gift-wrapping the 2-1 decision with three timely errors.
This should not come as a surprise for a team that has 103 defeats and eight more chances to lose before the season mercifully ends.
To the Indians’ credit, they accepted the victory gracefully, with starting pitcher Zach McAllister going so far as to say, “Houston is playing great. They came in here with a chip on their shoulder, trying to knock off a team in the race.”
With the Texas Rangers losing 2-1 to the Kansas City Royals, the Tribe moved into the second wild-card spot and had an opportunity to take away the first wild-card berth if the Rays lost to the Orioles.
Because of a weather front that went all the way back to Houston, when it began to rain after the Astros batted in the seventh, it was apparent that the showers weren’t going to stop for several hours.
After one hour, nine minutes, the umpires called it.
“We were prepared to stay as long as we needed to,” Francona said, “but it was not a good forecast.’’
Here is how the Tribe scored against an Astros club that is playing “great.”
Carlos Santana led off the second inning with a single. One out later, Asdrubal Cabrera slapped a bouncer off the glove of third baseman Brandon Laird, the ball then rebounding off shortstop Jonathan Villar and into the outfield to put runners on first and second.
If you’re scoring at home that’s only one error, but it was a good one.
Michael Brantley followed with a single to load the bases, and Mike Aviles grounded into a 6-4 fielder’s choice to score Santana with an unearned run.
The first of two.
With one out in the fourth, Ryan Raburn singled and Cabrera walked. First baseman Chris Carter muffed Brantley’s ground ball, which was recovered by Marc Krauss in left. He heaved it wildly back to the infield for another error, with Raburn scoring and Cabrera taking third.
The Tribe should have had the decency to produce at least one run on its own but could not find a way to get Cabrera to the plate.
“We didn’t do a whole lot with it [the opportunity], but we did enough,” Francona said.
On the pitching front, Zach McAllister held the Astros to one run, four hits and two walks, pitching only five innings.
At another time and in another situation, Francona might have let him stick around longer.
“That’s hard to say,” Francona said. “It depends on how our bullpen is. There are too many factors that go into it. There are times during the season we couldn’t do that [remove McAllister so early] but we have a full bullpen.”
So McAllister (9-9, 3.88 ERA) was out of the game after issuing his second walk, to Jose Altuve leading off the sixth inning. At that point, McAllister had thrown only 80 pitches, but Francona has 14 fresh arms to draw from in the bullpen.
One of them, Marc Rzepczynski entered to strike out Krauss then Bryan Shaw took over to strike out Carter. Where was the third out? Rzepczynski oversaw the throwing out of Altuve trying to steal second against Santana.
You would think after awhile that the Astros would tire of being gunned down on the bases. For one thing, it’s embarrassing. For another, it hasn’t helped the club’s offense.
On Thursday night, Altuve was thrown out trying to steal second by Yan Gomes; L.J. Hoes was out trying to advance to third on a short wild pitch, and Jake Elmore was picked off second, less than a minute after he entered the game as a pinch-runner.
So in the first two games, the four Astros have attempted advance an extra base and four were thrown out.
McAllister’s only slip-up came in the second inning, when he gave up a two-out home run to Brandon Laird.
In the fifth, McAllister got in trouble when he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk with one out. However, he induced Villar to slap a double-play ball to Jason Kipnis to end the inning.
“I got some balls up that inning,” McAllister said. “I was just asking for trouble, but the defense backed me up.”
The only other threat to McAllister’s well being occurred when Carter drove a long triple to center field, but there were two out and the Astros could not take advantage of the situation.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.