Saturday night the Indianapolis Indians entered the top of the 4th inning trailing the Pawtucket Red Sox 7-0. LHP Justin Wilson was seeking his 4th consecutive win, but after 40 pitches the 23-year-old had allowed three home runs and the rout was on. It did not look good as the Indians were looking for their 3rd straight win and the 5th win on the 8 game road trip. Wilson walked off the diamond after the 2nd inning, right past his teammates, and into the clubhouse to figure out what just happened. His night was done, but there was still a lot of baseball to be played.
C Dusty Brown gave the Tribe a pulse in the 4th inning with a 2-out 2 run home run. “It didn’t feel like a big swing at the time, but we had to get something going and maybe it was a spark.” The blast cut the deficit to 5 and the focus shifted to the bullpen. RHP Chris Leroux replaced Wilson and turned in one of the best outings of his career. Leroux put four zeroes on the board giving the Indians chance. Manager Dean Treanor summed up the performance. “An absolute lifesaver. If Leroux gives up one run we are done, but he took over and owned this game.” The 4 innings for Leroux were the most for him since September of 2006. “I was a starter back then. I didn’t think of it as 4 innings, but go as long as I could and keep them off the board.”
The Indians offense started to chip away in the 6th inning. The Tribe scored two runs and SS Josh Harrison could have called it a night. It was only the 6th inning and he was 3-3 with 2 runs and momentum squarely in the Indianapolis dugout. “I was getting some good pitches and my swing felt great. Once you get three hits you start to get greedy. I had no idea the night would end the way it did.”
Entering the 8th inning the Indians trailed 7-4. The odds of a comeback are still very slim, but the Pawtucket skipper gave the Indians a shot. The first three batters reached based and Harrison’s double (4th hit) brought the Indians to within one run and a throwing error allowed Harrison to advance to third base. During this onslaught the Paw Sox bullpen was quiet and the wheels were falling off. 2B Brian Friday hit a ball to third and the throw home beat Harrison, but the catcher could not hold onto the ball and the Indians had erased a 7 run deficit.
After another scoreless inning by Tribe bullpen and the Indians had a chance to win the game. The Indians were facing the same reliever who gave up the lead and immediately went to work. Back-to-back hits by Alex Presley and Andy Marte put two on with one out. The Paw Sox botched a double-play ball and with two on and two outs Josh Harrison stepped to the plate. “What more do you want? We had come all the way back and I was ready to win the game.” He wouldn’t need to…the Paw Sox reliever missed on a pitch that got away from the catcher and Alex Presley dashed home to give the Indians an improbable lead. Harrison would still leave his mark, doubling home Matt Hague to give the Indians a 9-7 lead and finish the game a perfect 5-5. The first time in his career he had five hits in a game.
“I’ve never had a five hit game, but I’ve been a part of a comeback like this. We did this a few times last year in Altoona and the dugout never gave up. You can lose some focus and go through the motions when you get behind early, but Brownies home run was the spark and man this is a great comeback.”
The Indians have won the past two nights by scoring the winning runs in the 9th inning. The team knows they have stolen two games away from Pawtucket and will go for the sweep Sunday night at 6:05
THE UNKNOWN CLOSER:
RHP Cesar Valdez closed out the wild come from behind win on Saturday night. It was a night off for the Indians regular closer RHP Tim Wood who nailed down the save in the first two games of the series. The 28-year-old has been at his best against Pawtucket. On Thursday Wood’s fastball topped out at 96 and his slider was unhittable at 91 miles per hour. Thursday he pitched a perfect inning striking out the last two batters of the night. On Friday Andy Marte blasted a 9th inning go ahead grand slam and Wood was quickly summoned to warm up. Working on back-to-back days he struck out the side allowing only two batters to foul off a pitch. The first batter looked at a 96 miles per hour fastball for strike three. The next batter missed a 91 mph slider and the last batter of the game was a day late on a 96 mph heater. Good morning, good afternoon, and good night…ball game.
Wood rise to Indians closer has been a surprise to his manager and he is proving to be a steal for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Wood has been unbelievable for us. Are you kidding me with a 96 mph heater and a 91 mph slider? He has been great for this team.” Dean has all the confidence in the world in Wood and the right-hander has not let his manager down.
How exactly did he get to Indianapolis? Tim Wood signed this winter with the Washington Nationals with the hope of making their opening day roster. “They promised me a shot at the big league club, but that didn’t happen and I was a part of the third cuts. Which was fine because they told me that I needed to get in some innings. So for the last three weeks of spring I gave up one run in 6 minor league innings. I had a good spring and was waiting for the season to start-up.” The Nationals had other ideas. “They told me that I was going to begin the season in Double-A. I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t say anything at the time because it wasn’t the place. I called my agent and told him that I felt like I was better than Double-A and we decided to ask for my release.”
The Nationals did not give Wood his release and he was prepping for a trip to the Eastern League. “My agent then called the GM (Mike Rizzo) and they have a great relationship and after their talk I was given my release. My first phone call was to Scott Mitchell.” Mitchell is the Pirates Assistant Pitching Coordinator and knows Wood from their days in the Marlins system. The Pirates signed Wood at the end of spring training and he only made the Indians roster because of a late spring injury to Tyler Yates. Dean Treanor explains “Woody was going to start in extended spring, but we were going to find a spot for him as quickly as we could. He was not going to be there long, but unfortunately Yates went down and Wood was added at the last-minute.”
Tim Wood’s dream was not to pitch in the bigs, but to catch a pass in the NFL. After high school, Tim Wood accepted a scholarship to play football at Northern Arizona University. Before leaving for school the Montreal Expos selected him in the 21st round and asked him to try out pitching. “I never pitched before so I went to a junior college and didn’t do too bad. I was 89-91 mph on a really good day. At the time I was a draft and follow and when the Expos became the Marlins I was drafted again by the Marlins, but basically it was the same group that selected me the first time.”
As you can expect injuries started to pile up for the first time pitcher as he had shoulder issues and underwent Tommy John surgery. “The Tommy John was the turning point in my career. I can back throwing harder than I ever had before. All of a sudden I was in the mid-90′s and I started to really become a pitcher.” The former football player carries an aggresive mentality on the mound. “What I like is the one-on-one battle with the batters. I take it personally when I’m on the mound and I want to prove I’m better than the hitter. I loved football because of the contact and hitting people and in a way throwing a baseball allows me to let out my aggresive energy”
Tim Wood made his big league debut in 2009. He had to wait 16 days before finally getting into a game. “I was called up for three days and didn’t get in and the second time I was called up I waited 13 days. Then I finally got in.” His debut was June 25 vs. Baltimore and he pitched 2 scoreless innings. It’s a rather incredible story to come from a football back ground to the Major Leagues. Tim Wood was right, he is better than Double-A and he is proving to be one of the best in Triple-A.
The Nationals loss has become the Indians gain and perhaps at some point this summer he will pay off for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
For the first time in Woods career his is closing out games. His numbers in save situations this season:
10 saves/11 save opportunities: 11IP/ER/11K/0BB/opponents batting average .105
The Indians will try to sweep away the Pawtucket Red Sox tonight. Pre-game coverage begins at 5:45 with the first pitch at 6:05. Hope you can join us on 1260 am or Indyindians.com