CLEVELAND: Ubaldo Jimenez delivered another noteworthy start Thursday night, so what else is new?
Nothing really. Jimenez wasn’t the problem as the Indians attempted to vanquish the Astros at Progressive Field.
The offense staggered and sputtered against the team with the worst record in the major leagues, and it took an 11th-inning single by Matt Carson to finally make 2-1 winners of the Indians.
Yan Gomes began the rally with a one-out single, Asdrubal Cabrera mis-hit a twisting ground ball down the third-base line for a hit that put runners on first and second, and Mike Aviles drew a two-out walk to load the bases and set the stage for Carson.
“This is the pinnacle of my career,” Carson said, “to do this for a playoff team like we are right now.”
The Indians are not a playoff team quite yet, but Carson’s hit kept them in the hunt. He was summoned from Columbus late in August and has done little but hit since, going 7-for-9 with one home run and three RBI.
“I didn’t feel like it was do-or-die,” Carson said. “If I get a hit, we win, but if I don’t we’re still in the game and can win it later. It was not a pressure at-bat to me.”
Manager Terry Francona sent Carson into the game to play right field one inning earlier.
“We’ll take any win we can get, but this was kind of nice,” he said. “This kid was in Triple-A all year, and Trem [Columbus manager Chris Tremie] told me how professional he was and how he helped the younger guys.”
So seldom has Jimenez been anything but effective that making opposing teams look bad has become routine. In seven innings Thursday night, he gave up one run, six hits and no walks, striking out nine.
The Astros didn’t exactly pummel him when they scored their run. Marc Krauss led off the second inning with a single and the next two batters, Jose Altuve and Trevor Crowe (yes, that Trevor Crowe), delivered bloop hits to load the bases with nobody out.
Brett Wallace struck out, but L.J. Hoes produced a sacrifice fly that scored Krauss.
Jimenez wasn’t seriously threatened again, partly because the Astros ran themselves out of two innings, but mostly because Jimenez was master of all he surveyed.
“We’re leaning on Ubaldo, and I think he’s enjoying it,” Francona said. “He’s been consistent with his stuff and that’s past encouraging. It’s exciting.”
In his past 21 starts, Jimenez has given up more than three runs only once. Over that same span, he has allowed two or fewer earned runs 16 times.
“I feel confident every time I take the mound,” Jimenez said. “I threw a lot of fastballs, but I used my other pitches, too. They’re very aggressive at the plate, and they’re looking for fastballs to drive.”
If the Tribe latches onto one of the two American League wild-card spots, it’s a good bet that Jimenez will start the one-game showdown that determines the qualifier for the Division Series.
The Indians are one-half game behind the Rays and Rangers, who are tied for the two wild-card berths. The Orioles trail the leaders by two games, and the Royals are three games back.
The Astros’ sorry record — 101 losses coming in — testifies to their status as a club that is trying to rebuild virtually from scratch. However, their lowly status didn’t make it any easier for the Tribe to score.
Starter Dallas Keuchel came into the game with a 6-9 record and 5.17 ERA, but he delivered seven strong innings, allowing one run, seven hits and one walk while striking out seven. He also benefitted from two double-play balls.
When the Indians scored in the first inning, it appeared that Keuchel might be in for a rough evening, but that was hardly the case.
After Michael Bourn made the first out of the inning, Nick Swisher doubled and scored on Jason Kipnis’ single. It was the first of four hits for Swisher, who twice was erased on double plays.
It looked that the Tribe was in deep trouble with one out in the ninth, when Chris Perez loaded the bases on Krauss’ second double of the night plus two walks. But Perez struck out Wallace and Hoes to end the threat. It was the fourth strikeout of the night for Wallace.
“We just kept plugging away,” Francona said. “We never felt like we were frustrated.”
Cody Clark led off the 10th with a double and was replaced by pinch-runner Jake Elmore, who committed a grievous pinch-running sin by getting himself picked off by Gomes. It was the third time the Astros ran themselves out of an inning.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.