Here are 17 Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 11-4 win against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.
1. The Indians are now a first-place team. As they were knocking around old friend Ubaldo Jimenez, the Chicago White Sox were blowing a six-run lead in the ninth inning to the Kansas City Royals. Now, the Indians hold a half-game lead over both teams and a 2.5-game lead over the Detroit Tigers.
2. It’s the first time the Indians have been in first place since they were 1-0 on March 31, 2014. That’s more than two calendar years ago. It’s also the latest in the season the Indians have been in first place since July 2, 2013, the year they ended up earning a wild card berth.
3. Perhaps the best sign for the Indians: They’re also close to getting Carlos Carrasco back into the starting rotation and, potentially, Michael Brantley into the middle of the lineup. Carrasco, who threw 53 pitches in four innings and allowed one run for Double-A Akron Saturday night, is the No. 2 starter and was a legitimate Cy Young contender in the spring whose return will give the Indians options in the rotation. Brantley, of course, will return to the heart of the order, though he is still operating without a specific timeline and has already had two setbacks this year.
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4. Those are two major assets the Indians have had to play without for most of the season. Still, they now sit in first place and have some momentum.
5. Said Mike Napoli, “There's people filling in. They're doing a good job of coming up here and competing and doing what they can. It's going to take all of us to do this. We can't just have individuals out there on their own playing. I think we've done a good job of sticking together and getting what pitchers have been giving us, and passing it on to the next guy. It's something that we're going to have to continue to do to become more of a group and move forward.”
6. As for Saturday, one thing Indians manager Terry Francona talked about after the game wasn’t just getting to Jimenez, but making him pay for it. Often times a pitcher will struggle in the first inning and rack up a high pitch count, but it won’t cost him and he settles into the game. That happened, in a way, for Danny Salazar in Houston, when he struck out three straight hitters with the bases loaded in the first inning.
7. It was in part thanks to some shoddy defense at third base—the Pedro Alvarez experiment at third base has been well documented and not very successful—but the Indians made Jimenez pay for a rough start, scoring six early runs and not allowing him to escape the second inning.
8. Said Francona, “How many times do you see a guy where you let him off the hook and then they settle into the game? We did a good job of not allowing that to happen. It made for a better game for us because you could see them coming. We had to go to [Bryan] Shaw just because there’s so much thunder in that lineup that you don’t want to let them get on too much of a roll.”
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9. The first inning included three hits, a two-run error and three stolen bases. Two runs scored on an Alvarez error off the bat of Napoli. Later, with him on second and Jose Ramirez on first, Napoli led a double-steal that put both runners in scoring position. Yan Gomes made it count with a two-run single to right field.
10. It was another case of the Indians being the top base-running team in the American League. Last week, Napoli talked about how important base running has been his entire career.
11. Said Napoli Saturday, “Coming up through the minors and in the big leagues, it's always been a part of what we've talked about, what we've done, what I've done. Coming over here, I've tried to bring that with me. Everyone wants to talk about someone has to be fast to be a good baserunner, but it takes instincts. It takes thinking ahead and having a plan. If a guy is going to give you a base, go and take it. That's how I was brought up. I think we do a good job here.”
12. The Indians’ 11 runs were scored on 11 hits, five stolen bases and four errors.
13. For Salazar, it was another quality start to follow up, really his one bad outing this season in Boston. Salazar threw six innings, gave up two runs on six hits and struck out five. He’s now 5-3 with a 2.39 ERA this season. He’s now held opponents to two or fewer runs in eight of his 10 starts and has struck out at least five in nine of them.
14. The early lead didn’t hurt, either. Salazar hasn’t needed much run support this season.
15. Said Salazar, “I think that’s great, gives you a little more confidence to go out there and to work really strong so they can’t come back. I think that’s big. I think that makes the game a little bit easier for us.”
16. One thing that will be checked on tomorrow—Lonnie Chisenhall doubled in the third inning and got dirt in his eye while sliding into the bag. His vision became blurry, and as a precautionary reason, Chisenhall had to be taken out of the game.
17. Said Francona, “When he slid into second, he got a ton of dirt in his eye, and they flushed it out. It was still kind of blurry. I don’t think they feel it was scratched or anything. It’s hard to send a guy up to hit when one of your eyes is blurry.”