CLEVELAND: It probably is not a strategy that every team can pull off, but the Indians are becoming experts.
Give the opponent a false sense of security by wasting every opportunity imaginable, and when the bad guys think victory is at hand, hit them with your best shot.
The Tribe did just that Friday night at Progressive Field, earning a 3-2 victory on Asdrubal Cabrera’s walk-off single in the ninth to hand the Los Angeles Angels their fifth loss in a row.
A leadoff double by Aaron Cunningham, a one-out single by Jason Kipnis, putting runners on first and third, then Cabrera’s line-drive hit to right. Bang, bang and … bang.
“It was a 2-and-0 count, so I’m looking for a fastball,” Cabrera said. “That’s what he’s supposed to throw.”
Manny Acta, who wears a poker face precisely the way it’s described in the manager’s handbook, had trouble concealing his joy.
“It was a great game to win,” he said, then went on to list the heroes.
There was Justin Masterson, Vinnie Pestano and “Cunningham, Kipnis and Cabrera, the guys who did it at the end.”
Masterson left all of his bad habits behind, delivering 8? strong innings, giving up two runs, four hits and five walks, including two in the ninth.
He found the strike zone early in the count and often during almost all of the Angels’ at-bats. Most of his outs (16) came on ground balls, which always is his plan, and five more came on strikeouts and one on an infield pop fly. That left only two out for an outfielder.
“For some reason, he started gravitating to the third-base side of the rubber,” Acta said. “It started last season. So we made an adjustment, moving him more toward the first-base side. That makes it easier to throw his sinker over the plate.”
Masterson didn’t want to explain the change, saying, “We made a hair of an adjustment, but we also did a few other things to keep me in the strike zone more often.”
In his previous three starts, Masterson had poor command of the strike zone, walking 11 and giving up 21 hits and 15 earned runs in 13 innings.
Jered Weaver pitched six scoreless innings, but it took him 115 pitches to get that far, which tells you things weren’t quite right for the ace of the Angels’ staff.
“The key were the quality at-bats we had against Weaver,” Acta said. “We got his pitch count up and got him out of the game.”
However, it’s unlikely that part of the plan was to avoid scoring.
Weaver gave up seven hits and walked four. That adds up to 11 base-runners, all wasted by the Tribe, which either ran itself out of innings or failed to produce any timely hits against Weaver.
At times, it seemed as if four or five Indians runners were on base simultaneously, so frantic was the traffic. But the worse things appeared to be going for Weaver, the more the Tribe appeared bent on saving him.
In the first inning, the Indians produced a double, single and drew two walks but did not score. Kipnis blunted the first part of the would-be rally by grounding into a double play, and with bases loaded and two outs, Jack Hannahan struck out looking.
More problems arose in the third inning: After Michael Brantley led off with a single, he was thrown out trying to steal. Kipnis struck out. But the Tribe wasn’t finished. Cabrera singled, moved to second on a walk to Travis Hafner and was thrown out at the plate on Carlos Santana’s single.
During Weaver’s tenure on the mound, three Indians were thrown out on the bases, and they still managed to strand seven in six innings.
When Weaver left, the Indians’ attack suddenly became much more efficient. With Hisonari Takahashi on the mound in seventh, Casey Kotchman snapped an 0-for-24 skid with a leadoff single, moved to second on a ground out to the right side and scored on Brantley’s double, his third hit of the game. Kevin Jepsen relieved Takahashi, and Kipnis greeted him with an RBI single to tie the score.
“If I get a knock in games that don’t mean anything [losses], it’s pretty much irrelevant,” Kotchman said. “So it was nice that we were able to score a run.”
Pestano was summoned after Masterson walked two batters with one out in the ninth. Pestano did exactly what he was supposed to do: strike out Vernon Wells and Erick Aybar.
“I’m not looking for a double play or ground ball,” Acta said. “Vinnie has the highest strikeout ratio of all our guys.”
In the end, the Indians received their payoff — a chance to emulate children and pummel Cabrera as he crossed the plate.
“It’s always fun to jump around and act like kids,” Kotchman said.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.