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A Season-Saving Start from Danny Salazar

Danny Salazar
Jason Miller/Getty Images

8:04 PM – We pick it up tonight heading to the bottom of the fourth with the Indians already up 2-0 on a first inning Carlos Santana home run.  Uh oh. This sounds like last night’s game. But instead of Carlos Carrasco doing wonderfully strange things, tonight we have Danny Salazar on the mound looking boringly good so far, managing his way out of his only spot of trouble in the top of the fourth.

It always feels a bit over-dramatic to call a regular season game a “must win”—especially when there are still four weeks left in the season with plenty of games against division foes to go.  But after the first two games of this series and the continued winning ways of the Royals, the Indians are as close to a “must win” as they’ve been all season.

All I’ve asked from my baseball teams is meaningful September baseball. It’s only fair that sometimes that feels like this—all raw nerves and fear.

8:17 PM – I’m not interested in debating anyone who wants to argue that Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley aren’t having outstanding offensive years.  But as for consensus, that’s about as far as our depth goes this year. We’re almost certainly going to need strong contributions from others in this last month if we’re going to win games at the requisite clip to make the playoffs.

Which brings me to Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Yan Gomes, who combined to score two more in the fourth and extend the Indians’ lead to 4-0.  After Kipnis works a one-out walk off Verlander, Chisenhall drives him in on a double to the left field corner. Chiz advances to third on an error. Then Gomes drops a bloop single beyond Victor’s reach at first base to score Lonnie.

Assuming our starting pitching can hold up—no small feat, to be sure—our playoff chances will largely come down to these three guys (and sure, throw Bourn in there too). There have been far too many games in the last month wherein the entire offense consisted of Santana home runs and Brantley doubles and hopefully a few seeing-eye singles from the rest of the crew. That won’t play much longer.

Anyway, over his last nine games Lonnie is hitting .444/.483/.667 with some flashes of his early season brilliance. Perhaps the ‘stache suits him well.

Quote8:39 PM – Salazar and Verlander work a scoreless fifth.  Still 4-0, heading to the sixth.

I’ve established something of a personal moratorium on commenting on the Indians attendance issues. It’s just not a rabbit hole I’m prepared to go down more than once a year or so. The vitriol it inspires, the unanswerable questions it poses, the frustrating divisions it seemingly engenders in otherwise amiable people—it can all be so disheartening. In addition to the effects, there is an open question as to whether the attendance can even be discussed intelligently. There are people I quite like and respect who feel that dredging up the issue is impossible to do with any degree of nuance or sophistication. That, in short, comments on attendance comprise clickbait of the most churlish sort, unworthy of serious time or consideration. Baseball’s first step toward the inevitability of Godwin’s Law.

Perhaps that’s why I’m burying these thoughts in a mid-game live recap that literally tens of people will read?

Anyway, I disagree with masses. I think the attendance is a problem that’s worth talking about. It’s a problem that didn’t get better when they signed fancy, high-priced free agents and it didn’t get better when they signed a charismatic, ring-bearing manager and it didn’t get better when they won 92 games, and it didn’t get better when they made the playoffs and it didn’t get better in a September division race. Last week the Kansas City Royals sold out their 41-year old ballpark for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in nearly 30 years. Tonight the Indians paid attendance is below 12,000, and half that many are in the stands.

There are people who will tell you there are completely logical reasons for the Indians to be drawing fewer fans than all but one other team. To me, that is beside the point. Whether or not you can explain the empty seats is strictly an academic exercise: the seats are still empty, and that is still an endemic, structural problem for professional sports team. Isn’t it a problem that season ticket holders can’t give their tickets away? Isn’t it a problem that a team has no financial incentive to win games? Isn’t it a problem that we appear disinterested in this sport, this team? Explain all you like, I suppose. I’m just tired of pretending the attendance isn’t atrociously embarrassing, and pretending it for the sole purpose of letting people cling to a self-image that no longer conforms with reality. “It’s not us, we swear! We have excellent reasons!”

I don’t have any answers, by the way, other than hot dogs and fireworks. It depresses me that after all the histrionics and protests to the contrary, when the mirror is finally held up, that’s what we really want: meat sticks and firecrackers. Tribe Town, indeed.

9:01 PM – Ooof. That took me farther astride than it should have, but luckily Danny Salazar is dealing, so we haven’t missed much.

Salazar just struck out Bryan Holaday to end the top of the seventh, still 4-0 Tribe.  Salazar’s line so far tonight is pretty sterling, especially considering the competition: 7IP, 7H, 6K, 0BB, 0ER.

In some ways, this start from Salazar is a far less bizarre sibling to Carrasco’s start last night. Both let up their share of hits due largely to high BABiPs—.625 for Carrasco last night and .350 so far tonight for Salazar.  But they managed to control damage through strikeouts and (most importantly) limiting walks.

Interestingly, six strikeouts in seven innings is actually sort of low for Salazar, considering his former whiffing ways.  But this is a trend that’s been going for some time now:

MonthK/9
Mar/Apr11.01
May9.39
Jul9.75
Aug7.96

Regardless, I’m happy to sacrifice some strikeouts for improved K/BB ratios, and Salazar’s 2.88 K/BB in August was above either of his early months this season.

Heading to the bottom of the seventh, Verlander still going, Tribe still up 4-0.

9:15 PM – Gomes leads off with a double to left, and advances to third on a wild pitch, but a Giambi strikeout and a Walters groundout threaten to strand him and keep Verlander alive.

Instead, Michael Bourn has a tremendous at bat leading to a sharp single to center to score Gomes.  Ramirez follows with a double to right center to score Bourn and knock Verlander from the game. Good guys take a 6-0 lead and Verlander’s gone.

9:19 PM – Brantley follows with a single off lefty Pat McCoy to score Ramirez. Santana ends the inning with fly out to center, but now the Indians are up 7-0.  All runs charged to Verlander. I wonder if that man will ever find anything to be happy about again?

9:25 PM – Salazar just retired the Tigers in the eighth on 10 pitches and sits at only 102 on the night.  For a guy who’s struggled with control/command (and therefore efficiency) for the entire year, this is as promising a sign as I could have hoped for—no walks, attacking and controlling the strikezone, managing his pitchcount, while still flashing filthy raw stuff. Can you even imagine if Salazar, Bauer, and Carrasco all put it together for six months next year behind Kluber? Happy thoughts….

9:35 PM – Lonnie’s one out double to right goes wasted, as the Indians go down in the bottom of the eighth.

Looks like Salazar is coming out for the ninth. Miggy due up.

9:38 PM – Well, I don’t think anyone in Cleveland will object to this, but Miggy was pinch hit for by something called “J. McCann”. He grounds out. One down.

9:42 PM – After Don Kelly drops a single in, Salazar strikes out J.D. Martinez on a 98 mph heater on his 113th pitch of the night. Final Countdown against Nick Castellanos.

9:43 PM – “Career high in pitches thrown for Danny Salazar.” ~ M. Underwood, professional counter.

9:45 PM – On his 118th pitch of the night, a changeup in the dirt, Salazar gets Castellanos swinging and completes his first CGSHO. Game over, 7-0 Tribe.

I just said this on Twitter, so I apologize for the self-plagiarism. I’ve seen Danny Salazar look more impressive than he looked tonight. I’ve seen him basically be unhittable and overpowering and a complete force of nature bursting with promise on the mound. In other words, I’ve felt awed by him. But none of that ever left me feeling all that reassured or confident that it wouldn’t all disappear tomorrow. Tonight he had the great stuff, but far more importantly, he was carefully pitching with it. You could see him working the bottom of the zone, in and out, changing eye levels and completely owning the strikezone from the first inning to the last.

What Danny Salazar did tonight, for perhaps the first time, was something that looked repeatable and projectable to me. God only knows, we’ll need it.

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)