Friday nights game in Louisville had the feel of a playoff game. The Indians slipped past Louisville 3-2 thanks to an 8th inning solo shot by OF John Bowker and the 99 mph heat from LHP Justin Wilson. The win keeps the Indians 4 games out in the wild card race and the Bats drop three games behind the Tribe in the standings. It was the 1st of 8 straight games between clubs and the start of their elimination series. The Indians would like to win 6 out of 8 and knock the Bats out of the playoff race and they can do the same to the Tribe. The worst case for both clubs is a split and they effectively knock each other out of the wild card race. Game one went to the Indians thanks to the 15th home run of the season by Bowker. “He (Edinson Volquez) threw me a change-up and I was able to stay on it long enough to drive it out of the yard. It was a big hit, but the bigger story was the job Willie did in the 9th.” Willie, is Justin Wilson who earned his first career save by hitting 99 mph on the gun 4 separate times. More on his night in a moment, game two between the clubs is tonight from Louisville Slugger Field at 6:05.
Hours before Friday’s first pitch I was sitting in Dean Treanor’s office talking about his line up. During our conversation closer Tim Wood walked in, looked at Dean and said “I’ve been designated.” I got off of the couch and walked out closing the door behind me. I wish I was not in there for that sentence and it was a harsh reminder about the business side of the game just hours before the Indians were to play their biggest series of the season. The Pittsburgh Pirates had to make the move on their 40 man roster to add RHP Ross Ohlendorf. The Pirates felt that Wood was the man they could remove to make room for Ohlendorf and designated him for assignment. Now Wood could be claimed by another Major League team and be added to their 40 man roster or the Pirates have 10 days to work out a trade. Wood could return to the Indians as a minor league player in a little more than a week if he is not claimed or traded. The move hit Dean pretty hard and Tim even harder.
“He is having such a great year and he is an even better person. Woody holds that bullpen together and he is the closer of the team. It’s tough on him and right now tough on our bullpen.” Back in the clubhouse Wood was saying his good-byes. He can’t be with the team during the process and decided to fly home to Florida. By the time I got to him his eyes were red and he quietly told me “it’s a business and I understand that, but this is the series we need and I can’t help. I can’t pitch today and that hurts more than anything.” As wood left the younger players wished him good luck while the veterans offered him words of encouragement. Wood leaves with a league leading 23 saves he has saved 9 of the Indians 17 wins since the All-Star break. The consensus in the clubhouse is that he will claimed by another team and my guess is the Pirates would prefer to trade him. We will see if he returns or if he signs elsewhere. One thing if for sure, 2011 was one of the best seasons for Tim Wood
WHO IS NEXT?
Without Wood the Indians turned to Wilson to close out Friday’s game. It was the first save opportunity in the 23 year-olds career and only the 4th relief appearance of his career. Dean will take it on a game by game basis because he isn’t sure if someone can go three days in row like Tim Wood. “There is the key with Woody, he is the only guy who can go three straight days and close out three straight days.” Other options for the end of the game will include RHP Jared Hughes, LHP Daniel Moskos, and LHP Justin Thomas.
Justin Wilson was moved to the bullpen last week after not producing as a starting pitcher. His last win was June 22 and his last win as a starting pitcher was June 12. The Pirates and Indians brass got together and decided to make the move to the bullpen and after Friday night he may never start again. As one Indians player told me “he can forget ever seeing the first inning again.” Wilson created a buzz on Monday night when he came out of the bullpen and hit 97 on the radar gun. He pitched two scoreless innings and was on cloud nine afterwards. “I just let it fly and went after guys. The hardest part is warming up in the bullpen with the fans right next to you. I thought one would get away and hit somebody.” After the game on Monday he told me the next time he was going to throw as hard has he could and try to hit 100. Friday night he would get his chance and the stadium gun clocked him at 103. I was standing in the tunnel behind home plate getting ready for the post-game interview and happen to be next to a couple of scouts. After the stadium gun clocked him at 103 I looked at them and they each turned their gun to show me 99. Justin Wilson just struck out a left-handed batter with a 99 mph fastball. Good-bye starting roll…hello bullpen. He retired the next two hitters and earned his first career save and the Indians nailed down a 3-2 win.
Rudy Owens was sitting in the stands charting and couldn’t contain his excitement during the 9th inning. “I freaked when he hit 99 on the gun. My palms were sweating I was so excited. I had him at 99 four times and it was incredible. Seriously it was incredible and awesome.” On a day when the Indians lost their closer they may have found another and the Pirates may have found a flame throwing left-hander.
OF Alex Presley and SS Chase d’Arnaud are with the team on rehab assignment. Both players were on the Indians opening day roster and were promoted to the Pirates in June. They join OF Jose Tabata and RHP Chris Leroux as current Pirates on rehab assignment. Add them with the current crop of Triple-A players on the DL and the Indians dressed 31 players Friday night. There are currently 33 with the traveling party and the two players who didn’t dress were pitchers sitting in the stands charting. A triple-A roster calls for 24 active players and rehab players don’t count towards the 24. Needless to say, but it will be a packed bus ride home after the 4 games in Louisville conclude Monday night.
Presley and d’Arnaud were in joking moods as they walked into the clubhouse. Both said they timed their rehab to help with the playoff push and Presley is 62 plate appearance away from qualilfing for the IL batting crown. “I’ll probably hurt my average over the next few games than add to my total.” Presley’s last game with the Tribe as on June 25 and he was hitting .336. His batting average sat atop the league standings until just a few days ago. He will need 389 plate appearances to qualify for the crown. He will likely fall short of that and give Matt Hague a chance at the crown. The Indians 1B is hitting .321 and is .001 behind Charlotte’s Alejandro De Aza. De Aza is currently with the White Sox and has enough plate appearances to qualify for the crown. “I really want that hitting title. It’s not going to be easy, but I think it would cool if I can lead the league in hitting.” It’s a another race worth watching.
Visiting teams circle the Indianapolis/Louisville trip for several reasons. Both cities offer so much in food and nightlife and the stadiums are two of the best in the league. More than that is the service you receive in the visiting clubhouses. Jeremy Martin and his assistant Luke Bosso handle the visiting side at Victory Field and provide one of the best stops in the league. The key is service, food, cleanliness, and did I say service? You are dealing with baseball players who from time to time will send you out for an item or two and it’s your job to accommodate them. Jeremy gets it done in Indy and the players appreciate it.
Matt Gallant is the visiting clubby in Louisville and he runs the best and tighest ship in the business. The layout is perfect with three tables, three couches, and the table in the middle of the clubhouse provides the pre-game and post-game spreads. I don’t eat any of the pre or post-game spreads. Now from time to time I may grab a roll or have a small bowl of mac-n-cheese like I did on Thursday afternoon in Columbus. But you’ll never see me grab a full plate and sit down to eat a meal after or before a game. It’s for the players and besides I have to keep my figure. With all of that said, Matt serves up chili once a series and I can’t keep my hands off. He puts his chili in a crock pot and you have the fixin’s of your choice. Jalapeno’s, cheese, sour cream, and additional hot sauce are there for you to choose from. If you take a poll among the Indians players Matt Gallant and his staff win going away as the best clubhouse they visit.
Hope you can tune into tonight’s broadcast. The Indians will look to move a season best 8 game over .500 and keep pace in the wild card race. First pitch from the ‘ville is at 6:05 with pre-game coverage at 5:45 on SportsRadio 1260 WNDE. You can find the Tribe online at wnde.com or on your iheartradio app.