Stephanie Storm’s final thoughts after the Indians 2-1 11thinning walk off victory Friday over the visiting Baltimore Orioles.
1) Say what you will you will about the Indians young patchwork starting rotation.
If not for the steadying force that has become newly crowned ace Corey Kluber, the club would have been left scrambling for more than a No. 5 starter all season. For, even when Kluber isn’t completely Kluber-like – like he was Friday (Wait, what? He gave up a run? Issued TWO walks? Loaded the bases?) - the right-hander is still pretty darn good.
How good? Consider that Kluber entered Friday night’s action with a 2-0 mark and a miniscule 0.68 August ERA as part of his now overall 13-6 record and 2.41 ERA. The right-hander continues to gain attention as the most unexpected player in the American League to challenge for a Cy Young Award. In pitching yet another gem for the Tribe, Kluber dominated the Orioles for 7 2/3, allowing just five hits and racking up 10 strikeouts.
2) Kluber’s 10-strikeout performance Friday marked his eighth double-digit effort of the season. The only pitcher with more is Detroit Tigers newcomer David Price, with 10. Kluber’s feat is the 11th in Indians history but the first since Dennis Eckersley did it in 1976.
3) Before the game, Tribe General Manager Chris Antonetti had this to say about Kluber:
“Corey attacks the strike zone, doesn’t walk anyone, strikes out a lot of guys and pitches deep into the games almost every time out,” Antonetti said. “We feel that every time we give him the ball we’re gonna win that game. That’s he best thing you can say about any starting pitcher."
4) Asked about the Indians young rotation, Antonetti boasted even more about Kluber while making a good point – he’s still under the team’s control for a while.
“Anytime you have a young rotation, there’s going to be developmental challenges along the way,” Antonetti said. “It’s not always perfectly smooth. But I think we’ve been encouraged by the progress we’ve seen with all of those guys. It starts at the front of the rotation with the development and progress that Corey Kluber’s made. He still only has two years of service in the major leagues, but he’s made great strides and continues to make great strides as a pitcher and has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the American League.”
5) Friday, there were two instances that would have frustrated most pitchers. Yet, Kluber barely batted an eye. The first came in the third inning when he uncharacteristically gave up two base hits and a walk to load the bases. As usual though, he didn’t flinch, rebounding to strike out Chris Davis and Adam Jones to escape the threat.
The second nerve-wracking incident with Kluber on the mound came in the eighth. Despite having already thrown 104 pitches, Kluber came back out to start the inning and struck out Davis for the fourth consecutive time.
With the next batter, Jones, at the plate, a lengthy controversy over whether Jones’ hand was hit by a Kluber pitch or by his own foul ball ensued. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter came out to argue the initial call that Jones accidentally got in his own way and proceeded to argue and argue and argue. It was obvious he was trying to delay the action, trying to throw Kluber off his rhythm.
Originally the umpires gathered to get another look at the play, only to find out it wasn’t of the reviewable kind under the current replay rules. In the meantime, Kluber didn’t take a few warm up pitches like most pitchers do during long delays, not wanting to waste any of the few precious pitches he had left.
“I’m not sure exactly what he was asking about or arguing,” Kluber said. “It was pretty lengthy. I don't think that’s why we have the replay system - for him to go out there and try to interrupt the flow of the game. In the end, it didn’t really affect me. We were able to get through Jones.”
Once Showalter finally gave up and made his way back into the visitor’s dugout, Kluber calmly climbed the mound and coaxed Jones to weakly grounded out to him for the second out. But when a Nelson Cruz single up the middle put a runner on with his season-high 116th pitch, Francona came out to get him.
“(Was Showalter trying to) freeze the kicker?” Francona said. “You’d have to ask him. I don’t know. Regardless of what is being said, because I’m not privy to that because I’m not out there, I don’t think (the umpires) can allow that to happen.”
6) It’s tough to complain about the Indians lack of offense on a night in which they came back to win on a walk off home run. But man, has the offense been stingy lately.
While one run often proves to be enough for Kluber to work with (if not for reliever Bryan Shaw letting in an inherited run when he entered the game with two outs in the eighth and promptly serving up back-to-back hits, Kluber would have notched his fourth game over his last five without allowing an earned run). But even Kluber deserves a little help from time to time.
6) Before Mike Aviles sent a Brian Matusz pitch down the left field line and onto the homerun porch for the dramatic victory, the Indians had gone 26 innings between runs – both solo home runs by newcomer Zack Walters. Walters’ first homer was his walk-off solo shot in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader. The Tribe didn’t score again until two games later, in the fifth inning Friday. Walters led off against Orioles left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen with another solo shot that just cleared the 19-foot wall and railing of the left center field bleachers, then survived a two-minute plus crew chief review.
Yet, the fact remains that on this night, two runs was enough to take down the club with the biggest division lead in all of baseball in the 69-51 Baltimore Orioles.
7) Perhaps the Indians aren’t offensively challenged as much as they enjoy a flare for the dramatic. Friday’s win was the Tribe’s second walk-off victory over their last three games, the ninth overall and the sixth to come in extra-innings.
Further, five of the six walk-off wins in extra-innings have come via the long ball, which marks the most for an Indians club since they racked up six during the 1995 season. This year, the Tribe leads the big leagues with seven walk-off home runs on the season. Friday’s was the 77th walk-off homer in the history of Progressive Field, which marks the most by any major league team over that span.