If you are a big fan of offensive baseball with teams trading home run for home run all game long, this Saturday night in Cleveland was not the night for you. Unless of course your next favorite thing is free baseball. In which case, you would have loved this one.
Danny Salazar, a crucial piece of the Indians rotation in 2016 (minus the postseason) had been sidelined for the past month and a half dealing with a shoulder injury. His last start was on May 27th and his last MLB appearance was June 3rd. He would go toe to toe with Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman who entered the contest with an impressive record of 9-5 and a 3.10 ERA.
Salazar set the tone early (and I mean EARLY) by striking out the side to start the game, doing it all on 12 pitches. Out of those 12 pitches, 11 were fastballs, and absolute heaters at that. Salazar would continue to torch batters all game long, moving his fastball around the zone with ease and topping out at 98 MPH. Not too shabby for someone who hadn’t pitched in a major league game in over 30 days. When Danny did decide to feather in some off-speed stuff, it was nasty. Blue Jay hitters were chasing changeups and sliders out of the zone consistently en route to a 8 strikeout performance for the Dominican right hander.
“It was very impressive”, said Tribe manager Terry Francona. “He came out throwing strikes, he had velocity, he attacked. That was really impressive”.
The Tribe offense would strike first in the bottom half of the 4th, as with runners on the corners and only one away, Edwin Encarnacion hit a screamer towards Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson who did not field it cleanly, allowing Michael Brantley to reach second base and Francisco Lindor to score. Donaldson did not receive an error on the play, rather, it was ruled a fielder’s choice as Encarnacion was thrown out at first.
Toronto would not answer until the 8th frame. With Salazar cruising but still only on his first start back from injury, Terry Francona decided to pull Danny (who was only at 85 pitches and seemed to have complete control of his fastball still) in favor of reliever Andrew Miller. Toronto first baseman Justin Smoak would clobber the first pitch thrown by Miller, depositing the ball into the right field seats to level things at 1.
The Tribe would put runners in scoring position in both the 8th and 9th, but were unable to convert. Toronto also had their chances at the dish but could not score anyone, sending the game to extras.
In the end, it would be none other than Francisco Lindor who played hero for the home faithful. Frankie found a pitch to his liking, literally just as the rain had started up again downtown, and sent an absolute rocket to right that was a no doubter the second he made contact. Lindor would trot around the bags with that enormous smile and receive a friendly assault from his teammates at home, giving the Indians a 2-1 win to even the weekend series up. The homerun was good for Lindor’s first walk-off long ball in his career, and fans certainly don’t expect it to be his last.
“I wasn’t trying to win the game, I was just trying to get on base!” said Lindor in his post-homerun interview, acknowledging Brantley and Ramirez, due up after him, both as top 3 hitters in the league. “I finally got the barrel to the ball”.
The biggest gripe fans had was the decision to pull Salazar (evident by the number of angry phone calls you could hear on the radio on the way home from the game), however, when you pull a guy who hasn’t started in 30+ days for arguably the most reliable bullpen setup guy in the game, it’s hard to fault that. One would much rather have Danny Salazar come playoff time than lose him over a late game injury in mid-July because he got pushed too hard.
The final line for Marcus Stroman would be 1 earned run on 5 hits with 7 strikeouts and 5 walks through 7 and 2/3 innings. For Salazar, it was 0 earned runs on 1 hit with 8 strikeouts through 7 innings. Bryan Shaw would receive the win despite a cascade of boos from the fans when he entered the game (I guess we all hate the guy with a 1.20 ERA???) and Toronto reliever Danny Barnes would be hit with the loss. Shaw is now 3-4 on the year while the loss dropped Barnes to 2-3.
The unsung heroic play of the game (excluding the walk-off here) came from Michael Brantley in the 9th. Jose Bautista would send a towering fly ball to the track and left, giving Darwin Barney (the runner on first) the idea that he could tag up and move to second to get in scoring position. Brantley fired a laser from the track right into the glove of Jose Ramirez who would lay down the tag on Barney, a crucial double play that really got the momentum back in Cleveland’s favor after it had been deflated by Justin Smoak.
The Tribe will look to win the series tomorrow as Corey Kluber will square off against J.A. Happ of the Blue Jays at 1:10. Check out the link below to re-watch Frankie’s walk-off blast! (Courtesy of MLB.com)