CLEVELAND: How poorly can a team play and still win? Ask the Indians, who tested those limits Sunday in defeating the Minnesota Twins 3-1 at Progressive Field.
And how awful were the Twins not to accept victory after the Tribe offered it to them repeatedly? The Indians were more like the entire field of a Thistledown claiming race than a mere gift horse.
“If somebody told me when it was all said and done we’d be up 3-1, I’d go straight to the casino,” manager Terry Francona said. “It says something for the idea of continuing to play. You can boot it around and say we had a bad game, or you can boot it around and still win.”
After the Tribe had taken advantage of only two of eight walks, Drew Stubbs came up with two out in the ninth and hit Jared Burton’s 0-and-1 pitch over the wall in straight-away center field to drive in the winning run.
Michael Bourn followed with a double that should have been a single, and Nick Swisher singled to score him.
“It seems like we were trying every way to give it away,” Stubbs said. “Four errors are very uncharacteristic of us.”
Four errors are very uncharacteristic of a team of 20-year-olds in the Midwest League.
Last Tuesday, Stubbs drove in the game-winner with a home run in the 14th inning against the Angels, who lost 4-1.
Of his nine home runs in 2013, six have come in the seventh inning or later, and five have been hit when the Indians were ahead or behind by one run or the score was tied.
“Those kinds of stats can vary from year to year,” Stubbs said. “I just happen to be having that kind of season this year.”
By force of will (and fast legs), Bourn outran the defense on his hit to right-center field. He conceded that from the crack of a bat, he was determined to make it to second.
“I said I was going to try,” he said. “There were two outs already, and in that situation it would take two hits to score me [after a single]. But I had to make up my mind right away.”
Bourn beat the tag, setting the stage for Swisher.
Admitting to a sense of relief, Bourn said, “I ain’t lying. I’m not going to say that was the worst game of the year, because we won. But we had a lot of misplays.”
In chronological order:
In the fourth, Josh Willingham led off with a double. One out later, Trevor Plouffe slapped a bouncer to Asdrubal Cabrera at short. Willingham, caught in a rundown, was safe at third when Cabrera missed a throw from Lonnie Chisenhall for the first error.
Even so, Scott Kazmir got the next two batters without allowing a run.
With runners on first and third and one out in the fifth, Doug Bernier bunted to Swisher at first. He looked around for somebody to throw to, and there was nobody in sight.
Jason Kipnis was stationed 20 feet from second base and couldn’t have retreated to first fast enough; Kazmir stood on the mound and watched.
The run scored from third (it would have, anyway), but now there were runners on first and second, though not for long. Kazmir made a wild pickoff throw, allowing Brian Dozier to take third. No matter, Kazmir retired the side without further damage.
After Cody Allen walked Dozier to lead off the seventh, Allen committed the Tribe’s third error on an errant pickoff throw, allowing Dozier to take second.
Bernier followed with a bunt down the first-base line. Unaccountably, Swisher raced in and slid to make the stop. His fall upended Bernier on his way to first, and the ball rolled away.
The ball was judged to be a single, but it could have been ruled an error. Even with runners on first and third with nobody out, the threat fizzled.
With one out in the eighth, Kipnis dropped a line drive at second base for the fourth error. Joe Smith ignored the misplay and got the side out.
How did Tribe pitchers avoid giving up more than one run? In five of Kazmir’s six innings, he retired the final batter on strikes.
“Right out of the chute, Kazmir had his fastball and he did a good job with his change-up,” Francona said. “But we made him work. He gave up a couple of leadoff doubles, but we didn’t play well behind him.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. 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.