The game of baseball makes you scratch your head sometimes. When I was growing up, the Indians had a player named Pat Tabler. He was never anything sensational. A nice player who hit for average for six seasons. While Pat is one of many of the guys who played on the forgettable teams in the mid to late 80’s that never came even close to winning anything, if you say the name Pat Tabler to any Cleveland baseball fan, they all say the same thing: he’s the guy who dominated with the bases loaded.
If you look on his Baseball Reference page his nickname is listed as “Mr. Clutch.” With the sacks packed, Tabler was a career .489/.505/.693 hitter with 108 RBIs in 109 plate appearances. Tribe fans always remember Pat fondly for it. Last night, they were once again beaten up by the modern day Pat Tabler; Detroit’s Don Kelly.
While Kelly doesn’t have the bases loaded numbers or even half of the career Tabler did (12 yrs, .282 hitter), there is something he will forever be known for – his complete ownership of Indians ace Justin Masterson.
Each time the Tigers face the Tribe, manager Jim Leyland makes sure to write Kelly’s name on the lineup card. The 33-year old journeyman was even placed in the six spot, right after DH Victor Martinez. Why? Because he has Masterson’s number. Yes, he is a career .234 hitter who has never been able to be a Major League regular, but you can throw all that away when he sees the Tribe’s #63 on the mound. In the second inning, Kelly singled with two on and nobody. In the fourth, he added a second single. But his biggest blow came in fifth.
With two on and two out and the Tigers leading 2-1, Kelly blasted a three-run jack to the seats in right field that was the death blow in the Tigers 5-1 take down of the Tribe. “Everybody has a guy,” said Masterson. “He salivates when I get up there. Why that is, I don’t know.”
Kelly is now 11-24 (.458) with two homers and nine RBIs in his career against Masterson. Did I mention he is a career .234 hitter?
“I can’t explain it;” he said. “I just see him well. I mean, when you have a guy who throws 96 mph with a sinker, slider, changeup, it’s just one of those things. … I guess I just see the ball well.”
Kelly wasn’t the only one who had a monster night for the Tigers. Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander pitched a gem and had his best stuff working. The Indians really had no answers for him. He went eight innings, allowing just one run on four hits, striking out seven without a walk.
They only had a couple of chances to get to Verlander but could never come through with that big hit. Their lone run came in the second. Asdrubal Cabrera led off with a double and moved to third on Michael Brantley’s single. Cabrera would score on Ryan Raburn’s RBI groundout, but the big inning never materialized.
Trailing 5-1 in the sixth, they put two on with nobody out when Yan Gomes was hit by a pitch and Michael Bourn singled. But Nick Swisher flew out, Jason Kipnis K’d, and Cabrera grounded out. That, as they say, was that.
The offense has really struggled lately and some movement in the lineup most likely needs to take place today. They have scored just nine runs in their last five games (2-3) and guys they are counting on to deliver the key hits just aren’t doing their job. Cabrera is completely miscast as a cleanup hitter and has been brutal since the All-Star break. A .244/.299/.696 OPS guy with eight homers can’t be hitting fourth, especially when he is 191/.250/.278 in 128 PA (30 games) since July 2nd (h/t JakeyStats). Swisher continues to disappoint as well. I know he is battling shoulder issues, but he is providing Casey Kotchman type numbers. He has had just six extra base hits and four RBIs since the end of June.
Imagine where this offense would be if they were getting regular years from these two. I for one would like to see Brantley and Carlos Santana moved up in the order with Asdrubal potentially going back to the two hole and Swisher hitting sixth. Something needs to be tried to get the offense going. Then again, I’m not sure the ’95 Tribe would have done much with Verlander the way he looked last night.
“He seemed to find another gear tonight that we’ve unfortunately seen in the past,” said manager Terry Francona said. “When he starts hitting 100 at the knees, and then snapping a breaking ball off, that’s tough.”
The Tigers have now won 10 in a row after taking the first two of this four-game series. They sit five games ahead of the Indians in the race for the AL Central. The Texas Rangers also won last night and lead the Tribe by a game and a half for the second Wild Card spot. I know that so many Tribe fans are in panic mode. “Season is over” I’ve seen and heard way too much for my liking over the past few days. There are 49 games left. The Indians sit 1.5 games out of the playoffs today. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. If they come out and salvage a split of the series by winning two in a row, I think everyone will feel better. But even if they don’t, it is not the end of the world. Do not forget that the month of September is where the Indians enter the cake portion of their schedule with the Mets (3), Astros (3), White Sox (6), Royals (6), and Twins (4) making up their last 23 games.
Yes, the loss of Corey Kluber for 4-6 weeks will hurt but if we have learned anything about Francona’s Tribe it is that they are a resilient bunch. When the chips are down, they seem to respond. Rookie phenom Danny Salazar is the next man up. He was going to start tonight’s game before the Kluber injury, but it now looks like he will get at least three or four starts before being shutdown for the season (strict innings limit). Any hopes of him being moved to a bullpen role down the stretch probably went by the wayside now that he has been pressed into starting duty up here. It will be very interesting to see how Salazar looks tonight as he takes on Detroit’s Doug Fister (10-5, 3.52 ERA).
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)