If I told you that the Indians offense would put up six runs on 10 hits and Justin Masterson would be the starting pitcher, you’d have to say you like the team’s chances, right? But as a wise man once said “that’s why they play the games.”
I was there. It was cold. It was very cold. Yet there was Masterson, the Tribe’s ace, in short sleeves. About 2500 of my closest friends and I sat in our seats ready to watch J Mast dominate the average looking Chicago White Sox lineup. But five batters in, the Sox had a 4-0 lead. It was a very un-Masterson-like opening frame.
Alejandro De Aza, who for some reason decides that to play like Ricky Henderson when he sees Wahoo Red, White, and Blue led off with a sharp single to center. Brent Morel decided to try a sacrifice bunt, something you don’t often see in the first inning. The bunt was perfectly placed to third, and Jack Hannahan’s throw pulled first baseman Casey Kotchman off the bag at first. Hannahan was charged with his second error of the season. Adam Dunn singled right back up the middle scoring De Aza. Paul Konerko, who owns the Indians like no other player has in the last decade, doubled to left scoring Morel. AJ Pierzynski hit a sac fly to deep center, bringing in Konerko, who moved to third on a Masterson wild pitch.
“I got what I wanted. They just didn’t go exactly where I wanted them to go,” said Masterson, referring to the ground balls. “You never assume that they’ll find this hole, find this hole and then go to this hole and this hole. The ball’s got to go to somebody some time.”
With the way the Indians have been hitting the ball, I for one had the feeling that the game was all but over at that point. The Tribe hadn’t scored more than four runs in a game yet this season, they were facing a tough lefty in John Danks, and it was brutally cold. So I decided to settle in for a few innings and bask in my “Cleveland Po ‘Boy,” one of the newest food options at Progressive Field. It was a hot dog covered in BBQ pulled pork, cole slaw, and fresh cut fries. Well worth the $8.50.
While I began to grub, the Tribe was able to scratch across a gift run in the first thanks to shoddy White Sox defense and a wild pitch. Two innings later we saw a staple of this young season for the first of three times on the day: Forgetting to come up with the big hit with men on base that would open up the flood gates. They loaded the bases on a Jack Hannahan single and two walks. But with two outs, Carlos Santana grounded weakly to third to end the inning.
In the fourth, Travis Hafner crushed a leadoff homer into the mezzanine section formerly known as “Pronkville.” It was his first bomb of the season. Shelley Duncan followed with a single and Casey Kotchman’s blooper found the chalk just over third base. The Wahoos were in business after Jason Kipnis bunted the two into scoring position. But again, the clutch hit never came. Hannahan K’d and Michael Brantley grounded out.
Strangely enough, Hafner’s homer and the Duncan and Kotchman singles were the first time this season the Indians strung together three consecutive hits. Sad but true.
Masterson seemed to have righted the ship since his rocky first inning, but in the fifth, his defense failed him again. After recording the first out, Brent Morel sent an easy ground ball to Asdrubal Cabrera at short. His throw was perfect, but Kotchman dropped the ball. “I just dropped the ball. No excuses,” said Kotchman who isn’t hitting and is known for his glove. Instead of nobody on and two out, the Sox had a base runner and would take advantage.
Dunn hit a single into the right field corner moving Morel to third. This brought Clew Haywood AKA Paul Konerko to the dish. What did you think was going to happen? Konerko singled in Morel, putting the Sox back up by three. After a Pierzynski single to load the bases, J Mast came up with back to back strike outs to get out of the jam.
Shockingly enough, the dormant Tribe offense battled back to make it a game again. With one out, Shin-Soo Choo and Santana both walked. Hafner, who looked very comfortable at the plate against the lefty Danks, doubled down into the right field corner scoring two and bringing the Tribe closer at 5-4. But again, they couldn’t get that tying run home from scoring position with less than two outs. Duncan flied out and Kotchman rolled a slow grounder to second.
With Masterson at 95 pitches through five, Manager Manny Acta thought he could steal an inning with his veteran long man Dan Wheeler, who was unimpressive this spring and in his first two outings this season. His task was to hold the Pale Hose where they were. He failed.
Wheeler gave up a double to ninth place hitting Gordon Beckham, a two-run homer to De Aza, and a walk to the light-hitting Morel. Acta had seen enough. In fact, we all had. Wheeler is at the tail end of his career. He hasn’t looked good since making the club and it defies logic that he would have been kept over a guy like Frank Herrmann who was so good in that role for Acta last year. After seeing what I saw today, I am setting the over/under on Wheeler’s DFA at May 7th. I like the under.
Raffy Perez was next and he didn’t fare much better.
After getting a ground ball out which moved Morel to second, Acta smartly called for a 4-pitch walk to Konerko to face the left-handed hitting Pierzynski. This was right about the time when I returned from the restroom. As I walked down to my seat, I looked up, and the first pitch I saw, AJ deposited it into the right-field seats; a no doubt, three-run blast. At 10-4 it was all over but the shouting.
Shelley Duncan added a two-run homer in the seventh off of lefty Will Ohman to finish the scoring. (Duncan wears out lefties. Its a shame they don’t have a left-handed compliment to him to platoon with in left field – Johnny Damon anyone? More on him later today if he becomes an Indian). I cannot fail to mention the Indians final failed opportunity in the eighth. They had runners on second and third with one out again, but Choo and Santana K’d.
This game came down to one stat – The White Sox were 6-9 with runners in scoring position. The Indians were 1-11.
“Five games is not going to make me panic,” Acta said. “We have to give it a little more time. It’s five games into it. In five more games, things can change again. Everybody goes through those periods — those ups and downs — and we’re in it right now.”
So the Tribe hits the road with a 1-4 record and have yet to put it all together in any one game. They hit .176 over the 5-game homestand (33 for 187) with 36 strikeouts. The starting pitching for the most part was solid, as was the back end of the bullpen, but the offense literally couldn’t put a single big inning together the entire homestand and relied almost exclusively on the home run ball.
“It was very disappointing,” Hafner said. “We wanted to get out of the chute well. We didn’t do that. Overall, I thought we played pretty well. It’s a matter of just getting a couple key hits here or there and we’re probably sitting 3-2 or something like that.”
Off to Kansas City they go where they get to be the opponent for the Royals home opener Friday afternoon. Derek Lowe, the owner of the Tribe’s sole victory, takes the mound for Acta. The Royals counter with Luke Hochevar.
photo via Chuck Crow/PD