CLEVELAND: The Indians played the kind of team baseball that may seem simple to many fans, but isn’t always easy to accomplish.
Of course, the Tribe have proved that more than enough times this season, which is why Saturday’s 7-6 victory against the Colorado Rockies was impressive.
On a gorgeous — albeit windy — afternoon at Progressive Field, the Indians produced a game that featured solid starting pitching and hefty offensive production. Both were backed by a major-league caliber defense that had been missing throughout a majority of the first two months of the season.
Starter Trevor Bauer pitched out of trouble to keep a lead intact. The Tribe’s batsmen backed him with a big inning early and then scored the winning run late to pick up the back end of the bullpen after it uncharacteristically blew the hold.
Between it all, Lonnie Chisenhall continued to hit left-handed pitching, reserve Mike Aviles drove in four runs while batting ninth — including the game winner — which happened to score Jason Kipnis, who supposedly had the day off.
Got all that? Here, let’s start from the beginning.
Bauer had thrown just 24 pitches over the first two innings when his offense handed the right-hander a four-run second inning featuring Chisenhall’s first RBI hit off Rockies left-hander Franklin Morales followed by a three-run homer by Aviles.
But the Rockies answered with two third-inning runs that cut the deficit in half. The rally was aided by a tough-luck throwing error by Tribe right fielder David Murphy. With one out, Bauer walked Wilin Rosario and D.J. LeMahieu smashed a double off the right-field corner wall that Murphy played well. But his throw to second hit the runner and ricocheted into left field, allowing Rosario to score.
Charlie Blackmon followed with an RBI bloop hit and Michael Cuddyer poked his bat out just enough to slice the ball through the right side of the infield to put two on with only one out. As Bauer struggled with his command while pitching out of the stretch, a double steal put Blackmon and Cuddyer in scoring position.
But Bauer showed his growing maturity, rebounding to strike out Carlos Gonzalez swinging and Troy Tulowitzki looking to get out of the jam with limited damage. He finished the game by tying a career high of eight strikeouts, limiting the Rockies to two runs on four hits and a walk.
“For the most part, he was really good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He had the inning where he threw some cutters — and they were making some adjustments to him also — and he threw them up over the plate and they hit the ball to right pretty hard. But then he came right back against the heart of the order and had a quick inning. … He ended up striking out two of the best hitters in baseball.”
Chisenhall added a 422-foot two-run homer off Morales in the sixth that pushed the Indians’ lead back to four runs and made him 9-for-16 against lefties this season.
Bauer’s 32-pitch inning was the only bump he encountered. He rebounded with three scoreless innings before giving way to the bullpen to start the seventh.
But in a rarity, seventh-inning setup man Scott Atchison struggled, dishing up three runs in just a third of an inning, including a Corey Dickerson solo homer.
Atchison’s replacement, lefty Josh Outman, threw just one pitch. But it also went for a home run — a three-run shot that marked Charlie Blackmon’s career-high 10th of the season and knotted the score 6-6.
Francona finally found a reliever to stop the bleeding in the seventh inning: Bryan Shaw, who struck out Cuddyer and Gonzalez to end the inning. In the eighth, Francona told Kipnis to grab a bat to start the inning as a pinch hitter. He produced a pinch walk instead, which worked as well.
Chisenhall used a sacrifice bunt to move Kipnis to second and Aviles drove him in with a game-winning single. In the top of the ninth, Cody Allen finished off the Rockies for his third save.
“Kip walks, Lonnie [Chisenhall] gets a great bunt down and Mikey [Aviles] throws it into right, and that’s exactly what we needed,” Francona said.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.