Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley has been on an odyssey of sorts working through internal challenges, personal expectations, and external commentary which was driven more by speculation than substance. For one moment in Brantley’s struggle back to being the player he once was, with 35,002 fans watching, Dr. Smooth did something he could celebrate. In the most electric game in Cleveland outside of the playoffs, Brantley carried the day and the celebration could center on him if only for this fleeting moment in a season full of challenges.1.
There are of course other moments in this game of importance and other players whose performance was integral. Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, an MVP candidate in the making, hitting an early home run, third baseman Yandy Diaz making exquisite defensive efforts, and starting hurler Carlos Carrasco flashing the ace inside himself. Yet, when we look back on this game in 2017 or as we attend future home openers, this will be Brantley’s opener. In order to analyze this moment, the plate appearance must be broken down.
With Lindor on first base and two outs in the tenth inning, Brantley locked horns with one Tommy Kahnle, a robust fellow whose fastball is monitored by the global climate counsel for its heat emissions. Indeed, this is the sort of fastball that had made Almonte and Santana look foolish, an uncommon occurrence. To start the plate appearance, Kahnle threw what MLB pitch tracker qualifies as a 97 MPH “slider” to the outside third. The White Sox approach was to pound heavy stuff away and force Brantley to make an adjustment.
Brantley has had success on the outer third of the plate but obviously not off the plate away.
Once Brantley forced Chicago White Sox reliever Tommy Kahnle onto the outer third, the lefty punished the fastball to the opposite field resulting in a walk-off win in front of thousands of fans who so desperately wanted this moment just for him.
The teammates who had watched him work so tirelessly to get back onto this stage were happy to celebrate with him too.
This was the Brantley redemption show through and through.
Alas, a few quick notes from Tuesday’s affair.
- Lindor, one of a handful of the most valuable defenders at any position, has had a massive power surge in this young season. He hit his fourth home run in seven games following hitting just 15 home runs in 2016. If the Indians claim a Central Division Title once again (which is quite likely), the young shortstop looks poised to put up an MVP season.
- Jose Ramirez is beautiful at second base. He has made a handful of plays in the first week and a half of the season that Jason Kipnis simply would not make. When Kipnis eventually returns from the disabled list, transitioning away from Lindor-Ramirez in the middle will be tough for Indians fans.
- Abraham Almonte cannot be sent down for Lonnie Chisenhall. Almonte is a competent defender and handles the bat adequately. With contact black holes in Tyler Naquin, Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, Almonte’s quality plate appearances and contact skills have been a boon at the bottom of the order.
- Yes, in the standings this is worth exactly the same as any other home game but to the city of Cleveland and Brantley, it was much more than that [↩]