I’ve written about the Cleveland Indians for two decades now, and it never ceases to amaze me at how these big, fantastic moments still leave me at a loss for words. Edwin Encarnacion’s 11th inning, walk-off, grand slam home run gave the Indians an 11-7 victory over the Anaheim Angels. It wasn’t the team’s greatest win in franchise history or anything, but it likely will go down as one of the signature moments of the 2017 season—if not the signature moment.
This isn’t to take away from Francisco Lindor’s very own walk-off home run this past Saturday, or even to take away from Bradley Zimmer’s first Major League grand slam1, from earlier in the game, but this is exactly the reason why the Indians acquired Edwin Encarnacion this past winter.
For years, it felt like the Indians needed a special bat. They needed a bat that could make a difference all by itself. They needed the bat that launched an 11th inning, three-run homer in last season’s American League Wild Card game, sending the Toronto Blue Jays into the ALDS. Last night, Indians’ fans saw first hand why.
With one swing of the bat, Encarnacion not only kept the Indians five-game win streak alive, not only kept the Kansas City Royals at bay (currently one-and-a-half games back, and on a seven-game streak of their own), but perhaps put an exclamation point on a stretch of baseball that may be a wake-up call to the rest of Major League baseball.
While the Indians have been slumbering2 for much of the 2017 season, it is beginning to look like the pieces are starting to click into place, and Edwin Encarnacion is right smack in the middle. If this offense gets right, this is going to be a really fun ride over the next three months.
While the slugger has taken some heat from fans for a sluggish start, former EHC scribe, and left-field porch mainstay Adam Burke took note of just how hot his bat has been since mid-May:
Since this tweet, Encarnacion has a .301/.401/.587 slash with a .410 wOBA and a 159 wRC+ over 242 PA. Also just a 17.4% K% w/ a 14% BB%. https://t.co/AbpByS88BE
— Adam Burke (@SkatingTripods) July 26, 2017
Yeah, mid-May is a long time ago. In other words, Encarnacion is quietly putting together an MVP-worthy season, especially if his hot play continues.
While Encarnacion was busy winning the game, his home run heroics had to share a front seat with the Indians newest potential superstar, Bradley Zimmer. Zimmer, who’s defense, speed, and tantalizing plate discipline has been electrifying fans for most of the season, added another bit to his growing rookie resume.
With the Indians up 2-0, Zimmer sent a 3-1 pitch over the right field wall, for his first Major League grand slam of his own, and his sixth on the season.
— Jim Pete (@JimPeteEHC) July 26, 2017
Counting Zimmer’s 33 games in Columbus, the Indians’ centerfielder has 11 homers on the season, in 93 games played. This is with a swing that is far from polished, but getting closer every day. I’ll have more on this later in the week. While Zimmer was hyped throughout his minor league career with the Indians, it appears as though his upside is a lot higher than people gave him credit for. He added to his home run with a catch that showcased both his fantastic route running, as well as his burst, and in honor of Shark Week, his impressive cruising speed.
Zimmer was playing slightly left of center, and you can see that he read the ball clean off the bat, and his initial burst got him to the warning track with enough time to read the wall, and make almost an easy catch. What’s really amazing is that once he has a bead on the ball, his eyes never leave it. He read the track, not the wall, and his leap at the end was pure knowledge of Progressive Field’s center field.
That’s what we like to call IQ, and a butt load of talent.
To put Zimmer’s catch into perspective, let’s take a look at Michael Brantley’s two catches from last night, that are highlight worth because of their visual hype.
The first catch, with the Indians leading 7-4, you can see Brantley’s jump is much slower, and as he closes on the ball, his angle isn’t great, forcing him to jump, and make the catch almost behind his head.
It was a great catch, but one that a great defender like Zimmer keeps in front of his body with a better route, and who gets to it long before the leap has to take place.
The second catch, Brantley gets a good jump on, but again, you can see that at the end, he has to dive forward because the route was slightly off. Still a great catch, but it goes to show you the difference between a great defender, and one who makes plays slightly harder than they should be.3
Sure, the Indians did some other things. Jose Ramirez continued to add to his very own MVP resume with a run scoring double in the second.
Michael Brantley hit his second home run in three nights, a solo shot, giving the Indians a 7-0 lead.
While the focus of this game is on the two grand slams, if this signals a return to power production for Brantley, the Indians’ line-up just became that much more daunting for opposing pitchers. Brantley’s two homers this week represent his first home runs since April, and while his offense has been consistent throughout the year, this is certainly a good sign for a team screaming for offense.
Oh, and props to Giovanny Urshela, who continues to make hard plays at third look really, really easy.
Will they win six in a row? Well, this guy’s on the hill tonight, and struggles at home aside, I’ll take my chances.
- The Indians’ two grand slams in one game aren’t a first, but IT IS the first time in Major League history that the second grand slam was a walk-off HR [↩]
- slumbering as much as a team can, while still in first place [↩]
- I realize I’m going to take some heat for that. Brantley made two great plays there, but please understand that an average to better-than-average left fielder likely makes both of those plays look a little easier. Brantley overcame a couple of weird routes, and his fairly slow footspeed, to make those catches [↩]