Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rays Win Series as BJ Steals the Show

It was the final game of a four game series between the 14-24 Cleveland Indians and the 18-20 Tampa Bay Rays.  There was a hint of trouble in the air stemming from an altercation that had the blogosphere drawing a line in the sand between the "old school rules" guys and the "you play to win the game" guys.  The problem stemmed from game one of the series, a Thursday night game.  The Indians had jumped out to a comfortable 9-0 lead after their half of  the sixth inning.  BJ Upton would draw a lead off walk off of Indians starter Fausto Carmona and immediately steal second, much to the chagrin of Indian catcher Victor Martinez.  If Martinez was irked at BJ's seemingly disinterest in the unwritten rules of baseball etiquettte by stealing second base down by 9, he was enraged after BJ stole 3rd base.  (BJ stolen base video link).

Maybe BJ's hustle woke up the dormant Rays bats or maybe they rattled Indians starter Fausto Carmona, because the Rays would go on to put up 6 runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to trail only by 3 at 9-6.  The Indians would go on to win the game but they seemed overly bothered by the BJ hustle.
After the game Indians catcher Victor Martinez would say "They've got to show respect to get respect," Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez said Sunday. "You don't see nobody (expletive) stealing 9-0 in the sixth or seventh inning."
If there was trouble brewing on Thursday night between the Indians and Rays, then Friday's nights game added fuel to the fire as BJ Upton would hit a leadoff double with the Rays down 7-0 in the fourth and promptly stole third.  Then, JP Howell threw a pitch upstairs to Martinez who immediately barked out to JP but after the game said that he didn't feel the pitch was intentional.   The Rays would eventually complete the teams biggest comeback in Tampa Bay Rays history thanks to a  walk off home run by BJ Upton off of just called up Indians reliever Luis Vizcaino.  BJ seemed to enjoy his trot around the bases (video) maybe a little too much for the liking of the Cleveland Indians, specifically catcher Victor Martinez  (game recap video here).

After the game BJ would say that even down 7-0 he felt the Rays were going to come back
"You could see it in guys’ eyes, we don’t stop playing. The energy was still up in the dugout,” Upton added. “There was a lot of game left.”--Yahoo Sports
The Indians bats would go silent in the third game of the series but BJ Upton would put the Rays on the board with a solo shot off Indian starter Carl Pavano (video) en route to a 4-2 Rays victory.  The game was close enough to keep the simmering to just below a boil, but there was always the opportunity for the Indians to deliver a message to BJ on Sunday.  An opportunity that the Indians would not pass up. 

The final game of the Indians vs Rays series was an odd game all the way around.  David Huff was making his big league debut but had to wait through a lengthy delay before delivering his first pitch.  Rays manager Joe Maddon would put Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria both at 3b in his lineup card.  Zobrist played the field in the top of the first, which meant he would be the Rays 3b that day.  Indians manager Eric Wedge caught the mistake and  the umpires met for 13 minutes before determining that Tampa Bay would lose their DH and be forced to bat Andy Sonnanstine in the 3rd position and Evan Longoria would have to take a seat on the bench.  Sonnanstine would enjoy his day at the plate going 2-4 with a run scoring double.  He would also pitch 5.2 innings and earn the victory as the Rays would win the game 7-5.  The game would feature a blown call by the umpiring crew, and a great acting job by Carl Crawford in the top of the 8th inning, which may of also intensified the Indians frustration (video).   A bright spot for the Indians was outfielder Ben Francisco who would homer twice off Andy Sonnanstine.  Francisco's career line against Sonnanstine after Sunday's affair was 6-7 with 4 home runs, a double, and a walk. 

The bottom of the eighth inning is where things get interesting.  The Rays were up 7-5 and Indians reliever Matt Herges sandwiches a walk between two strike outs.  With a man at first and two outs in the inning, Indians manager Eric Wedge goes to the bullpen to bring in closer Kerry Wood to face BJ Upton.  Woods first pitch to BJ was an 89 mph fastball right behind Upton that sailed all the way to the screen.  Woods second pitch wasn't quite as blatant, a fastball that bore down around BJ's knees.  Joe Maddon was chirping from the Rays dugout and Victor Martinez took exception to what was being said and yelled back.  Carl Crawford was the first guy out of the dugout, pointing a finger in the face of Martinez and then heading directly out toward Kerry Wood.  Both benches would clear and order would be restored quickly.  In the top of the ninth inning, Rays closer Troy Percival would hit Mark DeRosa with an 0-2 pitch before retiring the next three Indians in order to pick up his sixth save as the Rays would take 3 out of 4 from the Indians.  BJ Upton would finish the crazy series with a slash line of .250/.368/.688 with a 2b, two homeruns, 5 runs, and 5 stolen bases.

Some closing remarks from the managers and players care of (link) and (link):
  • "From the get-go, it felt like one of those days. You just knew something wasn't right," Upton said. "The more I think about it, bringing the closer in to get one more out, it probably should have been heads up in the box anyway. It's over with, and we move on."
  • Eric Wedge denies throwing at BJ - "We got Kerry Wood out there because he hasn't pitched in three days, and I figured if we could tie it or take the lead, we can run him one-plus [inning],"
  • Troy Percival on hitting DeRosa - "I'm not going to put a game on the line in that situation. I'm not going to hit him [intentionally],"
  • Troy Percival on Woods' pitch to BJ - "I know they were trying to send a message. "That's fine, but you send a message the next at-bat. Or you send a message with the guy that's on the mound. You don't bring a guy in throwing 97 with two outs in the last inning. Now you're saying, 'Look, we're not sending a message, we're trying to hurt you.' There's a big difference."
  • Joe Maddon on Woods' pitch to BJ - "After the first pitch I looked out at B.J. and said, 'Was that behind you?' I could see him mouth back to me, 'Yes.' At that point, it was too late for me to react," "The next pitch was not too late for me to react. "It was blatant. And you cannot let a blatant situation go any further. I want to let our players know that the staff is going to support them all of the time. That's the right thing to do from a manager's perspective."
  • Victor Martinez on BJ and the Rays - "He (Joe Maddon) was yelling at me, saying throw the ball over the plate. He has to worry about teaching his (expletive) players to play the game the right way," "Now he's getting mad because he's getting one of his players thrown at? He better worry about teaching them to play the game the right way first."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Memorable Game: Shoppach's Big Game

On July 30, 2008, Kelly Shoppach would bring the magic back to Progressive Field  at least for one night, even if the games outcome  was all too familiar.  Shoppach would finish the evening 5-6 with 2 homeruns and 3 doubles becoming only the sixth player in major league history to have five extrabase hits in a single game.  He would become the second in the American League to do it joining Lou Boudreau (1946).  Four players, Sean Green (2002), Steve Garvey (1977), Willie Stargell (1970), and Joe Adcock (1954), have accomplished the feat in the NL.   The game would see Cliff Lee spotted to a 8-1 lead only to go on to lose the game 14-12 in 13 innings.

Remember the Good Times

The 2008 Indians were supposed to build off of their 2007 success. An Indians team that came within one victory of defeating the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, a series which the Indians held a three games to one advantage and had CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and Jake Westbrook lined up to take the mound to clinch.  The Indians would be outscored 26-6 in the final three games.  Looking back, the only positive statement that can be made about that 2007 ALCS is that the Indians were the only team to notch a victory against the Red Sox in the 2007 post-season. 

The 2008 season saw the decline of the Indians at a faster rate than any Cleveland fan was prepared for.  By July 30th, the Indians had traded away their ace CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers and the versatile Casey Blake to the Dodgers.  The team was in last place in the AL Central and had the second worst record in the AL of 46-60.  

On a brighter note, Cliff Lee enterered the game with a record of 14-2 with an ERA of 2.29 and a nice crowd of 26,596 were on hand to watch Lee go for win number 15.   Lee would be given a 8-1 lead only to surrender 6 runs in 5 innings.  The Tigers would close to within 1 run at 8-7 after their half of the sixth inning only to have the Indians put up a 3 spot in their half of the sixth to regain a comfortable 4 run lead at 11-7.  Unlike the first 7 innings,  neither team would push across a run in the seventh. 

Edward Mujica would begin the 8th inning with the Indians in front 11-7.  He would easily get the first two out before the roof caved in.  Mujica would walk Curtis Granderson, give up a bunt single to Placido Planco, an RBI double to Marcus Thames, a RBI single to Magglio Ordonez, and a 2-RBI double to Miguel Cabrera tying the score at 11.  Mujica was never able to get the third out in the inning as Masa Kobyashi was summoned from the bullpen to retire Gary Sheffield for the final out.  Kobyashi would give up a run in the ninth to give the Tigers a 12-11 lead as Fernando Rodney came in for the save.  Rodney would give up a solo homerun to Shoppach to tie the game at 12 apiece and the Indians would load the bases only to have David Dellucci weakly groundout to first for the final out of the inning.

The Indians would have an opportunity to win the game in the 12th inning off of Tiger pitcher Casey Fossum.  After a leadoff single by Ben Francisco, Fossum would walk Johnny Peralta and Shin Soo Choo to bring up the evenings hottest hitter Kelly Shoppach.  Shoppach was unable to deliver the game winning hit as Fossum struck him out.  Andy Marte would step into the box with the chance to be the hero, but to the collective groan of Tribe fans everywhere hit into a 6-4-3 double play.  The Tigers were able to string three singles around an error to push across 2 runs off Indians reliever Juan Rincon and the Indians would go down without a fight in the 13th to lose 14-12.  Of particlular discussion after the game was Andy Marte's decision not to throw home on a groundball to 3rd in the 13th inning (as seen in the video link above).  This game was one of the more exciting games in the 2008 season and may of been a turning point for the 2008 team as they would have the second best record (35-21) in the AL next to the Boston Red Sox (34-19) over the final two months of the season.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Memorable Game: Andy Marte Scoreless Inning

The 2010 Indians found themselves in a space usually reserved for the 1970's or 1980's Indians.  The Indians were playing in a near empty stadium, were battling to avoid last placw, and were looking for a bump in attendance thanks to a mid-summer visit by the New York Yankees.  As hoped, Progressive Field would come alive, reminiscent of the 70's and 80's when the Yankees and their starpower came to town for a four game series.  The Yankees were back in th,eir familiar surroundings as wel as they were battling the Tampa Bay Rays for first place and the best record in the American League.  The series had an extra perk to it that had the baseball world watching as Alex Rodriguez would go for home run nubmer 600.  The crowds were some of the larger crowds of the summer for the four games, especially for a Monday through Thursday series.   The Indians would drop game one of the series 3-2 in front of 27,224.  The Indians would exact some satisfaction with a 4-1 victory over CC Sabathia, while the Indians countered with Josh Tomlin making his major league debut in front of 27,416.  Fausto Carmona would be battered in his worst start of 2010 and the Indians would lose game three to the series 8-0 in front of 22,965.    The Indians would fall 11-4 in the finale of the series, A-Rod wouldn't get home run #600 but the game did serve as a memorable moment for Tribe fans as 3b/1b Andy Marte came in an pitched the ninth inning for the Tribe.



A Indians would play the final game of the series in front of 34,455 and since Carmona only made it through 2.2 innings in game three, the Indians were relying on a solid outing from Mitch Talbot.  The Indians would not receive their wish as Talbot would have to leave the game after two plus innings due to a sore back.  The Indians bullpen would keep the game close.  The Indians only trailed by a run 2-1 as the game entered the seventh inning.  The seventh inning was a key inning in many of the matchups between NY and Cleveland in 2010.
  • On May 28, 2010 the Indians would trail 4-2.  The Yankees would put the game out of reach with a 4-spot in the bottom of the seventh on their way to a 8-4 victory.
  • On May 29, 2010, the Indians would enter the seventh trailing 9-5 but score 7 runs on their way to a 13-11 victory.
  • On May 30, 2010, the Indians were leading 3-0 as the Yankees came to bat in the seventh.  The Yankees would put up 5 runs in their half of the seventh on the way to a 5-3 NY victory.
  • On May 31, 2010, the Yankees were leading 2-1.  The Yankees would again put the game out of reach by putting up 6 runs in thier half of the seventh on their way to a 11-2  victory.
The seventh inning started out with Tony Sipp easily retiring the first two hitters, but then much like when the Yankees rallied off of Joe Borowski (video) in 2007, a solo home run was the catalyst for a Yankee rally.  After the home run to Cano, Sipp would walk Nick Swisher and Brett Gardener before being removed for Joe Smith.  Smith would give up an RBI single to Fracisco Cervelli.  Smith would hit Chad Curtis with a pitch before walking Derek Jeter to force in a run.  Curtis Granderson would add another run with an RBI single and a walk to Mark Teixeira to reload the bases.  Alex Rodriguez would single in two runs before Robinson Cano would end the inning with a ground out.  All told the Yankees would send 12 men to the plate, scoring 7 runs with 2-outs, on 4 hits, 4 walks, and a hit by pitch.  At the end of the 7th inning the Yankees held a 9-1 lead .  The Yankees would add two more runs off of Jess Todd in the top of the eighth inning to extend the lead to 11-1.   The overuse of the bullpen would lead to the decision to put Andy Marte on the mound where he would retire the side in order, including a strike out of Nick Swisher.  The Indians would put up 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth only to lose 11-4 and even though A-Rod did not hit #600, it turned out to be a memorable game for the Indians fans. 

By the end of July, the Indians completed their seemingly annual roster purging.  In June, the team said goodbye to their off-season acquisitions.   On June 10, 2010, the Indians released second baseman Mark Grudzielanek and reliever Jamie Wright, on June 26, 2010 the Indians traded firstbase/DH Russell Branyan to the Seattle Mariners for outfield prospect Ezequiel Carerra and infield prospect Juan Diaz, and on July 16, 2010 the Indians released catcher Mike Redmond.  The Indians would trade third baseman Johnny Peralta to the Tigers for pitching prospect Giovanni Soto (LHP).  On July 30, 2010 the Indians would trade all purpose outfielder Austin Kearns to the New York Yankees for pitching prospect Kevin McAlliste (RHP) and on July 31, 2010 the Indians would send Kerry Wood to the Yankees for cash and two players to be named later which turned out to be infield prospect Matt Cusik and pitching prospect Andrew Shive (RHP).  On the same day the Indians would take part in three way trade involving the Indians, St.Louis, and San Diego.  Cleveland sent pitcher Jake Westbrook to St.Louis, St. Louis sent outfielder Ryan Ludwick and pitching prospect Nick Greenwood (LHP) to the San Diego Padres, and the Indians received pitching prospect Cory Kluber (RHP) from San Diego.  

Friday, December 24, 2010

Memorable Game: A-Rod Blasts a 3-Run Walk-off Home Run

Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.  ~Michel de Montaigne

Fans of any of the Cleveland sports teams have been given plenty of memories that fit perfectly into Montaigne's quote.  The Browns contributions include Red Right 88, The Drive, and the Fumble.  The Cavaliers added The Shot and through no fault of their own The Decision.  The Indians finally got into the act by blowing a 1-run 9th inning lead in Game Seven of the 1997 WS before Edgar Renteria delivered the game winning hit in the bottom of the 11th inning.  

We all also have the individual games that for one reason or another seem to stick in our memories more so than others.  Some of these games brought us euphoria and some of them brought us despair.  Usually, there is a side story that accompanies these games such as a family outing, a first date, or some other human interest event that coincides with the sporting event. 

For me, THAT game was played between the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees on April 19, 2007.  For months I had been studying for an 8-hour long Professional Engineer exam which was to be taken on Friday, April 20th at the Orlando Convention Center.   At the time, I lived about an hour and a half from the testing facility, so I decided to drive out the day before the exam and get a hotel for the evening.  The Indians and Yankees were playing a day game that afternoon and I was looking forward to listenting the game on my XM as I drove to Orlando.  What better a distraction to take my mind off the equations floating in my head for a few hours than a Indians and Yankees baseball game?  Things wouldn't work out the way I, or the Indians had hoped, as Alex Rodriguez would spoil the day with a walk-off three run home run to defeat the Indians 8-6. 

The Indians were coming off a 78-84 finish in 2006 despite scoring 870 runs while allowing only 782 runs to score (a pythagorean record of 89-73).  The 2006 season had started with great promise as the Indians won 7 of their first 8 games.  By July 19th, the Indians had stumbled ot a record of 42-52 and found themselves 21 games out of first place, so on July 20th, the Indians sent their closer, Bob Wickman, to the Atlanta Braves.  The Indians would go on to finish the year with a 36-32 record, but were unable to find a reliable back end bullpen combination or a closer.

Most painful to watch in the 9th inning that year was Fausto Carmona, whose whole tenure as closer is best described by Montaigne's quote.  After the 2006 season, the Indians front office invested heavily to shore up the back of their bullpen.  Keith Foulke was signed to a 1-year, 5 million dollar deal and Joe Borowski was signed to a 1-year, 4.25 million dollar deal which included a 2nd year club option worth 4 million dollars.  The additional depth provided by the Foulke signing woudl be short lived, as on the day before pitchers and catchers were to report for spring training, Foulke would retire citing pain in his elbow that offseason.  With Foulke's retirement, the plan was to have Joe Borowski fill the closer role for the Indians in 2007.

There was not a lot of optimism surrounding the 2007 Indians, but a slight bit of hope had surfaced after the Tribe started the year off with a 6-3 record as they headed into New York to play the Yankees.  The Yankees would win the first two games of the series dropping the Indians to 6-5 and the team would turn to Fausto Carmona to try and salvage at least one game  

Carmona was coming off a nightmare season which saw him post a record of 1-10 with an ERA of 5.42.  A year that included a seven day period where he would be charged with 4 losses (3 blown saves) and post an ERA of 37.13.  Carmona would end 2006 starting and begin the 2007 season in Clevelands rotation due to an oblique injury to Cliff Lee sufferred in Spring Training.  Carmona would lose his first game in 2007 to the Chicago White Sox giving up 6 ER in 4.1 innings.  Entering his second start on April 19th, Carmona hadn't won a big league game in over a year (April 15, 2006).  Carmona would pitch effectively against the Yankees that day and would leave after 6 innings trailing 2-1.

It would seem as if luck was going ot be on Carmona's side this day.  In the top of the seventh, the Indians would score 4 runs, capped by a Victor Martinez 3 run homer to put the Indians on top 5-2 and put Carmon in line for that long sought after victory.  The Indians would carry that lead into the ninth inning, and would add a run in the top of the ninth thanks to an Alex Rodriguez throwing error to lead 6-2. 

Even though the game was no longer a save situation, Indians manager Eric Wedge had Borowski warmed up and he hadn't pitched in 3 full days.  Borowski on the year had done what the Indians had asked for him by converting 5 out of 5 save opportunities on the young season.    Borowski would retire the first two batters, Robinson Cano on a fly out and Melkyl Cabrera to ground out, with relative ease.  The Indians would avoid the sweep and Carmona's long wait for a victory would most certainly be over.

Josh Phelps would hit what would seem to be a meaningless solo home run to prolong the game.  What followed is a string of at bats that I have yet to get out of my mind concluding with a befuddling managers decision that I have to this day never been able to understoand.   Jorge Posada would single on a 2-2 pitch, Johnny Damon would run the count full before drawing a walk, Derek Jeter would hit a RBI single to left to make it a 6-4 game, Bobby Abreu would hit a RBI single on a 1-2 pitch to pull the Yankees to within 2 runs at 6-5.    The Yankees were down to their final strike three times and three times they found a way to prolong the inning, setting the stage for Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod had been off to a blistering start in 2007.  In his first 13 games, A-Rod hit for an average of .365 with an on base percentage (OBP) of .435 and an obscene slugging percentage of .981.  He had already hit 9 home runs and driven in 23.  He was the hottest hitter in  baseball and stood in that day with runners on first and second, and his team down only a run.  Borowski's first pitch was a wild pitch putting runners at 2nd and 3rd with 2-out.  Certainly Eric Wedge would now walk Alex Rodriguez (I understand the not wanting the walk the winnng run into scoring position) and face Jason Giambi, right?  No, Borowski's next pitch was drilled to straight away centerfield and all Grady Sizemore could do as a jubilant A-Rod rounded the basepaths as the Yankees waited to congratulate him at home plate. 

Eric Wedge stated after the game that he chose to face Alex Rodriguez rather than walk him because he liked the righty-righty matchup and didn't want Borowski to have to pitch to a very selective hitter (Giambi) with the bases loaded.  Additionally, Wedge noted that A-Rod had struck out twice that day and Giambi had already hit a home run.  Lifetime, A-Rod was 2-5 against Borowski and Giambi was 3-5 with 2 home runs.  I have never understood, for whatever the logic, allowing the hottest hitter in the game to beat you, but Wedge did.  A-Rod became the quickest player in major league history to reach 10 home runs with the walk off blast, I don't know who could've been a hotter hitter?

Borowski said after the game, "Fastballs, breaking balls, up, down, they just hit everything."  Borowski would make a habit of torturing Indians fans with 9th inning tightrope acts for the remainder of the season, a year which he would lead the AL with 45 saves.  But, it was quite a statistical difference between save situations and non-save situations.  In non-save situations, Borowski would have a record of 2-4 with an ERA of 9.60 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.58.  In save situations, he'd have a 2-1 record with an ERA of 3.73 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.50.

Both Carmona and Borowski would exact some bit of revenge on the Yankees in the 2007 ALDS.  Carmona would hold the Yankees to just 1 run in 9 innings and the Indians would win in the 11th inning on a walk off single by Travis Hafner to give the Indians a 2-0 game lead in the ALDS.  The game would best be remembered as "the Midges" game.  Joe Borowski would enter another game with the Tribe with the Indians up 6-3 in the 9th.  Borowski would again give up a solo home run to make it a little tighter at 6-4, but would not allow another hit as the Indians eliminated the Yankees from the 2007 post-season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Video Fun: The Chris Perez Wild Thing Debut

On June 26, 2009, Chris Perez was a member of the first place St. Louis Cardinals when he got the news that he was being traded to the Cleveland Indians.  The Indians were only two games ahead of the Kansas City Royals for last place in the AL Central.  The St.Louis Cardinals were on there way to another 3 Million in attendance while Cleveland was on there way to drawing just over 1.75 Million.  Perez came over and sensed an opportunity to achieve what he has desired since his days at the University of Miami, and that was to be a closer in the Major Leagues.  The Indians bullpen, even wtih a name brand closer in Kerry Wood, had blown 13 of 26 save opportunities on the year. 

Perez reported to the Indians on June 29, 2009 in Chicago and was ready to prove himself to his new teammates.  His adrenaline was pumping to say the least.  The line score for the clean shaven Perez was one of the uglier lines for an Indians pitcher's debut in recent memory.  Perez would come in to start the ninth inning with the Tribe trailing 2-0.  Perez would promptly hit Alexi Ramirez in the head with a fastball.  Jayson Nix would pinch run for Alexi Ramirez and would steal second base.  With first base open, Perez would throw one up and in on Jermaine Dye would throw his arms up in the air and luckily use his wrist to deflect the ball.  As if hitting the first two batters didn't suggest that Perez was  having some control issues, walking Jim Thome to load the bases affirmed it.  Finally, Perez would retire Paul Konerko on an infield fly to record his first out as a Cleveland Indian.  AJ Pierzynski was up next and would hit a hard one hopper to Garko at first who would throw to second for the force out, but Perez was late getting off the mound and the Tribe was unable to get the double play and a run scored.  With runners at first and third, Perez would give up a double to Chris Getz scoring one run.  With runners at second and third, Perez figured he'd already hit two guys, walked a guy, and failed to cover first on a play that he'd throw a run scoring wild pitch to make the score 4-0.  After that, Gordan Beckham would single in another run before Eric Wedge would come out to the mound to pull Perez in favor of Jose Veras.

When the dust had settled and Jose Veras retired DeWayne Wise, Perez would end up being charged with 4 runs, all earned  in 2/3 of an inning, hitting two batters, walking one, one wild pitch, and faiedl to cover first on a possible inning ending double play.  A lot of Tribe fans saw the emotion and adrenaline oozing out of Perez that night and on the blogospehre people commented that "if ever Perez could harness that stuff" we'd have something to get excited about."  I think in the time since that first crazy night, Perez has in fact harnessed that stuff and is something to get excited about.