This is my fifth season in the Indians radio booth and I’m having trouble recalling another three game stretch like the one I just witnessed. The Indians have won 5 straight games to improve to 10-10. Every season has pivotal moments that can define a season. The Indians will play 144 games and often times 4 or 5 games will make or break a season. For the Indians their first defining game was Monday night and it lasted 15 innings.
The Indians and Louisville Bats started Monday’s game at 7:06 with Bats lefty Travis Wood firing a strike to Jose Tabata. Over the next hour and 20 minutes the game would move into the 7th inning. The Indians led 2-0 heading into the bottom of the 7th with starting pitcher Donnie Veal working on a 2 hit shutout. After a walk, skipper Frank Kremblas took the ball from Veal and turned the game over to reliever Anthony Claggett. The first man Claggett faced launched a game tying home run and the wild night was just beginning. The Indians took a two run lead in the 8th inning thanks to a Louisville throwing error and a wild pitch. Claggett and the Tribe would give the lead right back with another game tying two run home run…now the real fun begins
The Indians are retired in order and Corey Hamman enters the game fresh off the disabled list. He gives up a lead-off double forcing the Indians to intentionally walk the next batter. A sacrifice bunt leads to another intentional walk loading the bases with only one out. “I didn’t want to walk the bases loaded, but it did make sense at the time.” Hamman would strike out Drew Sutton with three fastballs. “The last two were balls, but he went after them and bailed me out. The next guy Heisey (Chris Heisey) did the same thing and chased pitches that were out of the zone.” Heisey had a 3-2 count with two outs and the bases loaded and fouled off three pitches that appeared to be up and out of zone. He did not want to walk, wanting instead to win the game with a hit. Big mistake, chasing one too many, he popped out to right field to end the inning.
Once again the Indians went down 1-2-3 and once again Corey Hamman gave up an extra base hit. This hit was a two out triple; the next batter was Louisville’s best hitter Chris Valaika. Valaika was 2-4 and had a batting average of .353. The man on deck was 0-2 and hitting .048…so the call is to walk Valaika and pitch to Wladimir Balentin right? Manager Frank Kremblas never considered it and Hamman was on the mound with the game on the line. Valaika did what all good hitters do and he worked the count into his favor. Hamman came at him with a fast ball and the pitch was crushed to right centerfield. Hamman thought the game was over. “As soon as he hit it figured that’s it, but then I saw (Jose Tabata) Tabby running back towards the wall I was hoping he had a chance.” Tabata sprinted back towards the right centerfield wall and at the last second he reached up and the ball popped out of his glove. It went straight into the air and as Tabata fell to the ground he made a juggling catch to save the game. Steve Pearce was playing in right field and couldn’t believe Tabata made the catch. “I saw him juggle it and when he caught it, I went nuts. I started to wave my arms to really sell the umpires that he made the catch. He did catch it, but you never know with umpires.”
You know the drill…the Indians hitters went down in order and then Corey Hamman gave up a one out double. When the Bats and Indians play there is no designated hitter. The two National League affiliates play by NL rules and by the 11th both benches were getting thin. Louisville skipper Rick Sweet had to pinch hit for his pitcher and he called on left handed hitting Danny Dorn. Hamman easily won the lefty-lefty match-up and when Drew Sutton flied out the left field the score remained tied at 4. In innings 9 through 11…all 9 Indians hitters were retired while the Bats left 5 runners on base and 4 of them in scoring position.
Corey Hamman has been walking the tight rope throwing three stressful innings. However, there are not many options for Kremblas, so Hamman steps to the plate to lead off the 12th inning. Hamman coaxes a walk giving the Indians their first base runner since the 8th inning. Hamman stands at first base and does not know the signs. INF Brian Friday, who was lifted in a double switch after the 7th inning, is coaching at first base and has to whisper the signs to Hamman. Friday sees Kremblas show the sign for a hit and run. Friday asks for the sign again to make sure he didn’t miss anything, “A hit and run? Ok, but I wanted to make sure.” With Hamman on the bag and Louisville’s first baseman there to hold the runner close; Friday is whispering to Hamman that it’s a hit and run. Now, Hamman does not have a stolen base in his career nor has he even attempted a stolen base. As soon as the pitch to batter Argenis Diaz flies, Friday begins screaming “Go, go, go…” and Hamman takes off. Diaz swings and misses with the catcher’s throw sailing to the right of second base. Hamman slides wide of the bag to avoid the tag, but is called out when the Bats second baseman places a swipe tag on Hamman. Or so we thought….turns out the tag was off by at least a foot, but the umpire was out of position and made an assumption call. The next two batters would make outs sending the game to the bottom of the 12th inning. From there Corey Hamman would retire the side in order and move the game to the 13th inning.
INSIDE THE INDIANS CLUBHOUSE: Pitcher Steven Jackson was in the clubhouse watching the game serving the 2nd of his three games suspension. “Up to the 12th inning that was the best minor league game I had watched in a long time. Then things got really interesting.” As Jackson was watching the game the next day’s starting pitcher Jeremy Powell was beginning to doze off on a clubhouse couch. He was trying to get some rest for his start and was relaxing in shorts and a t-shirt. All of a sudden hitting coach Jeff Branson walked in and asked Powell to put on his spikes and come out to the dugout. “Ok, no big deal, but then Brano asks me if I want to play first base or right field!” Powell goes on to say “What do you mean? I have not played the field before.” Branson left, Jackson started to laugh out loud, and 33 year old Jeremy Powell would get dressed for a night he will never forget.
The Indians finally break through against the Bats bullpen when catcher Erik Kratz walks with the bases loaded. The Tribe takes a 5-4 lead heading into the bottom of the 13th inning. Closer Jean Machi enters the game to pitch and Luke Carlin is the new Indians catcher. Kratz moved from behind the dish to first base with first baseman Brian Myrow moving to right field. This move clears the bench of available position players and the double switch removes Steve Pearce from the game. Right now Pearce is the Indians best hitter, but we will learn later this move had to be made by the Indians skipper. Machi has been nearly perfect with the Indians allowing only one hit in five appearances. BOOM! The first pitch from Machi was sent over the wall in left centerfield by Louisville SS Zack Cozart. The game was tied at 5. I had just left the radio booth to handle to post-game interview when I heard the crack of the bat. I never saw the pitch or the home run, but heard the sound and immediately turned around and walked back into the booth. Machi would get out of the inning, but the Bats hit their third game tying home run since the 7th inning.
Both teams have exhausted their benches and the game is now over 4 hours long. Remember the first 6 and a half innings went by in an hour and 20 minutes with the following 7 and a half innings lasting almost three hours. The Indians open the 14th with a Diaz single. Brian Myrow was hit by a pitch and moved to second base on Doug Bernier’s second sacrifice bunt of the game. The Indians had runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out for Neil Walker. The Bats decided to intentionally walk Neil. The first pitch from the Bats reliever was WAAAAYYYY outside and the catcher had to jump up to catch the intentional pitch. The second intentional pitch sails over the head of the catcher and the Indians take the lead 6-5. A wild pitch on an intentional walk gives the Indians the lead! Now with Myrow at third the Bats decided to pitch to Walker and he hits a fly ball to right field. Myrow tags on the play and is thrown out at the plate. Unbelievable…the crowd, well those who are left are treated to their 2nd 7th inning stretch. Louisville comes right back against Machi with a lead-off double. Two batters later, Juan Francisco hits a fly ball to right field and the runner at third base is tagging at third to score on the play. Myrow catches the ball and fires home, but it is too late and the game is tied at 6.
Jose Tabata saved the game back in the 10th inning with a juggling diving catch and now it was time for him to end the game. The 21 year old blasted a 450 foot home run to left center field giving the Tribe a 7-6 lead. Tabby told me the first pitch of the at-bat was a cutter that he fouled off his hands. So he moved closer to the pitcher and the next cutter broke into the barrel of his bat and gave the Indians the lead. Now it was Machi’s spot to hit, but he was out of gas and Frank Kremblas needed a pinch-hitter. Here comes Jeremy Powell to the plate. An hour ago he was ready for bed and now he is batting in the 15th inning. The first pitch to JP hits him on the right ankle. The next day’s starting pitcher has just been hit in the ankle and is hobbling down the first base. “I saw the ball moving towards my feet and I don’t know if I thought it would hit the dirt or what, but I just froze. The next thing, I’m drilled and it hurt. It sounded like it hit a bat, but it was my ankle bone.” The Indians would not score that inning, but could they hold onto this lead?
In the 15th inning pitcher/pinch-hitter Jeremy Powell jogged out to right field and the new Indians pitcher is catcher/first baseman Erik Kratz. Back in the 13th inning the Indians skipper removed Pearce because if he needed to have a position player pitch it would be Kratz. So Kratz stayed in the game and Pearce was removed. It was a move made by Kremblas with an eye towards this inning. The game on the line and Kratz was looking for the save. He was looking at doing what two relievers were unable to do. The first batter of the game hit a bouncer to third that was misplayed into an error. Oh boy, here we go…up to the plate is Balentin and his .048 batting average. Kratz features a batting practice fastball and a knuckle ball. Balentin hits the knuckle ball 10 feet in front of the plate and is thrown out at first base. Guy is having a really bad year huh? The tying run moves to 2nd base with Wilkin Castillo walking to the plate. He tied the game in the 7th with a two run home run and was looking to win in with this trip. He lifted the Kratz pitch into right field where Jeremy Powell was standing. “I can’t believe they hit it to me.” Powell made the catch, the bench erupted, and the runner remained at 2nd base. “Catching a ball at night is the hardest thing I have ever done in baseball. I never saw the laces. The ball was floating and vibrating the entire time it was in the air and I was just hoping it would hit my glove.” Pinch hitter Corky Miller stepped up to the plate and sent Kratz’s 82 mile and hour fast ball into left field where Neil Walker made the catch. After 4 hours and 57 minutes the Indianapolis Indians had beat the Louisville Bats 7-6 in 15 innings.
Erik Kratz earned the save and Jeremy Powell made a catch. The Elias Sports Bureau says that never in a Major League game has a starting catcher earned the save in the same game. Elias does not keep track of Minor League records, but there can’t be more than a handful of instances where this could happen. Think about it…the Indians starting catcher pitched a scoreless, hitless inning for a save. The game featured a total of 507 pitches and ended at 12:03 EST. When the season is all said and done this may be the win we look back on as the defining win of the season…or is it?
TUESDAY APRIL 27:
Four hours and 27 minutes after the final out the Indians team bus pulled away from the hotel to the Louisville airport. Some players elected to just stay up, while others tried to sneak in 1 or 2 hours of sleep. I personally slept from 2:00 to 4:00. The best line on the bus ride came from Brian Myrow…”Hey, remember when Tabby hit that game winning home run 10 minutes ago?” The team flew to Chicago and then Providence arriving at the team hotel in Pawtucket 4 and half hours before first pitch. Jeremy Powell as going to be the starter and he was working on very little sleep and a swollen right ankle.
Powell is a guy that every team needs. He has been around long enough to know his role and he’ll take the baseball whenever you want. With his right ankle heavily wrapped, JP went out and allowed just 2 runs in 5 innings of work. The Indians offense scored 7 runs on 9 hits and the Tribe won two games in the same day. I was impressed with the way the team put behind them the previous game and long travel to win a game on the road. When I left park after the 3 hour and 29 minute game I figured the guys would be tired come Wednesday. Wednesday’s game was schedule for noon…just 12 hours after walking into the hotel room.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 28:
None of the players were happy at all to have a noon game after the two days the endured. There isn’t much you can do with the schedule, but play them out. To make matters worse the wind chill in Rhode Island made the temperature feel more like 32 than the listed 44 degrees. As expected the Indians got off to a slow start falling behind Pawtucket by a score of 9-3 after just three innings. They were due to lay an egg after what they had been through and it was going to make for a long afternoon. Then something happened…and it was a swing that may play a larger role in defining the season than a 15 inning win. With two outs and the bases loaded in the 5th inning, the Pawtucket starter was one pitch away from gong five and possibly earning his first win of the season. Brian Myrow was in a 0-2 hole and like he often does, worked the count to 3-2. BOOM! Myrow’s grand slam brought the Indians back to life and turned a depressing 6 run deficit into a whole new ballgame. The dugout came alive and the Indians figured since we’re back in it…we might as well win it. The Tribe would add a run in the 6th inning and they trailed 9-8 going into the 9th inning. Brian Friday singled and was sacrificed into scoring position by Diaz. Tabata hit a fly ball to left to that appeared to be deep enough for a sac fly. However, the wind played tricks on the Paw Sox left fielder and he dropped the ball. The game was tied and Tabata was standing at second base. The next batter Neil Walker capped of a 4 hit day with the go ahead single and the Indians erased a 6 run deficit to beat Pawtucket 10-9.
This recent three day stretch has the entire clubhouse confident and riding high. The team has won a 15 inning game with their catcher earning a save; won while working on less than 2 hours of sleep; and won a game after trailing by six runs. 33 innings of baseball that took 11 hours and 33 minutes with the Indians outscoring their opponents 24-17. They have won 5 straight and are 10-10 entering tonight’s game.
NEWS AND NOTES:
2009 MVP Daniel McCutchen will make his Indians 2010 debut. ‘Cutch was sent down from Pittsburgh after a few bad starts and will be in the Indians rotation for the time being. Wednesday’s starter Kevin Hart has been placed on the disabled list and it may be a while before his right arm is ready for action. Steve Pearce is on a tear this month having already set a record with 26 hits this month. That’s the most hits in April since the Pirates and Indians began working together in 2005. Pearce has walked 11 times in the past 6 games and yesterday earned a walk on a 16 pitch at-bat. Neil Walker has 14 hits in his last 8 games with 7 extra base hits. Jose Tabata had an 11 game hitting streak earlier this year and entering tonight’s game he has a 6 game streak. Go to Indyindians.com to listen to the game. First pitch at 6:15 with the pre-game coverage beginning at 5:45
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