I was thinking about this on my drive home from Progressive Field last night. Should I immediately go to the computer and start firing in anger or should I sleep on it and see how I felt in the morning. I took the mature path. However, I was up in the middle of the night not once, but twice, for a solid two plus hours thinking about what I had just witnessed down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario (and the screaming moron directly behind me who didn’t stop for nine innings). If it bothers ME this much, imagine being a member of the Indians after last night’s absolutely gut-wrenching, heart-tearing, sickening 4-2 loss to the hands of the first place Detroit Tigers.
This one should have felt so different. Corey Kluber, the Indians completely-out-of-nowhere stopper, came out and put up zeroes for seven plus innings before handing things off to the bullpen. The defense behind him was absolutely superb thanks to a pair of web gems from second baseman Jason Kipnis, the arm of Michael Brantley in left, and the crazy wheels of Michael Bourn in center. After a one-out single by Ramon Santiago in the eighth, manager Terry Francona made the decision to go and get Kluber with the top of the order due up. We all rose as one to give Corey the standing ovation he deserved. Again, he was a strike-throwing machine, giving up six hits and just one walk while striking out six. The sinker was once again on display.
On came Joe Smith who created a jam of his own, but was able to work his way out of it thanks to plain old fashion dumb luck. After Austin Jackson’s infield single put two on with one out, Torii Hunter sent a line drive directly at right fielder Drew Stubbs. It looked as though Stubbs would come in and make the catch, but he got caught in between and took the ball on a bounce. Jackson, the runner at first, saw the ball land, take a quirky bounce towards Stubbs and proceeded to over-run second base. Stubbs was able to recover and throw behind Jackson, who was eventually tagged out on this way to third. At the time, everyone inside of Progressive Field thought the Indians had just caught the biggest break of the game. Still, there was one more big out to get in the form of Miguel Cabrera.
With new life in him, Smitty got Cabrera to ground out to second to end the inning. The bullet was dodged, Cabrera was now behind them and wouldn’t be coming up in the ninth, and a gigantic collective sigh of relief came from the 24,000 plus in attendance. However, baseball is a nine-inning game.
Before I get there, the offense needs to be taken to task as well. Save for two, two-out RBI hits from Jason Giambi in the second and Carlos Santana in the fourth, there wasn’t much to talk about. With that said, the Tribe narrowly missed two extra runs by a few feet. After Giambi’s single put the Tribe up 1-0, Lonnie Chisenhall hit a ball deep to center field that Jackson jumped up and snared to save a home run. Santana’s double looked like a no-doubt homer off the bat, but it hit the top of the center field wall. Even the person in charge of sound effects at Progressive Field thought it was gone as the home run siren rang through the stadium. If both balls are hit a foot higher, its a different ball game.
The offense has put up just eight runs in their past four games. That is just not getting it done.
And speaking of not getting it done……
Indians closer Chris Perez has not enjoyed himself much this year. He had a rough start, a DL stint, and an arrest for marijuana possession. Afterwards, he decided that he no longer was going to speak to the media. Once he emerged from the disabled list, Perez pitched like an All-Star. Heading into last night, the closer had allowed just two earned runs in his last 18 appearances and had not blown a save since May 18th. He came on to pitch the ninth for the third consecutive day. Francona said he had no problem bringing him on after back to back days of work. He had done it twice before this season and recorded three saves and two wins without allowing an earned run. This time would be different.
You could see after the first two batters he faced – Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez – that Perez didn’t have his command or his regular velocity. The veteran sluggers produced a double and a single to start the ninth, cutting the Tigers deficit in half. But still, the Tribe had a one-run lead and three outs to get. Walking Andy Dirks on five pitches also should have been a tell-tale sign for Francona, who had Cody Allen warming behind Perez. But he stuck with his closer who had converted his last 11 save chances.
When asked if he considered pulling Perez in that spot, Francona said “If you’re going to start doing that, you’re going to get a revolving door going and create a mess. He’s shown the ability to wiggle out of those a lot of times.”
The next Tiger was Alex Avila who took a 1-0 meatball over the high-wall in left-center for the ultimate blow. The three-run, opposite field home run from a guy hitting under .200 on the season was a dagger to the heart. Francona came out to get Perez, who left to a chorus of boos. CP has been so good since his return in June, but he could not have picked a worse time to not have it.
The most incredible fact of them all – Perez has blown saves against the Tigers three consecutive years on August 5th.
Here is the thing. Blown saves happen all the time. This one just happened at the most inopportune time. The Indians had the Tigers on the ropes, ready to take the first of the big four-game set with the team they are chasing in the AL Central. Instead, they headed into the clubhouse with arguably their most demoralizing defeat of the season. This, along with the two bullpen meltdowns in Minnesota coming out of the All-Star break, will be the ones we look back on should the Tribe narrowly miss the playoffs.
As for Perez, he skipped out of the clubhouse quickly after the game, leaving his teammates to do the talking for him. In years past, he was the first guy to be accountable for his actions on the field. He would face the music after a blown save. But, he hasn’t spoken to the media since May and he kept that up. I had no problem with him deciding to keep his mouth shut earlier this season, but last night is not the time for you to dip out on your teammates. They deserve better than that. It was an extremely weak move.
Judging by the meltdown on Twitter last night, you would have thought Perez killed someone’s dog. He blew a save. I’m sure at some point he will blow another at some point. But because of his past transgressions, the fan base has given him zero leeway. I’ll say this – there is still nobody else currently on the roster that I would trust more in his closer role. It is not like the rest of the guys in the pen haven’t done the same thing lately. This one is just more magnified because of the opponent and the timing. He will be fine. The guy has pitched six of the last eight games and had an off night.
The good news is that there are still three more games in this series and we get right back at it tonight with a dandy of a pitching matchup. Justin Masterson (13-7, 3.33 ERA) will match up with Detroit’s Justin Verlander (11-8, 3.88 ERA). The reigning Cy Young Award winner has not been himself this season and sports and ERA of 5.82 in three starts against the Tribe this year. Masterson has been a true ace since the break, going 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)