Chuck Tanner once said that the best thing in the world was winning a baseball game, and the second best thing was losing a baseball game. While the ninth inning Monday night may have tested that theory, overall the game was proof that Tanner knew what he was talking about.
Watching a baseball game with so much at stake is like walking up to the most beautiful girl at a dance. You know that you’ll probably walk away with your heart ripped out, but the possibility makes it worth the risk. Even as Alex Avila’s home run was leaving the yard, I felt better than I did at any point the last two months of last season, when we all went through the baseball equivalent of a lobotomy and tried to convince ourselves that it mattered whether we finished fourth or fifth.
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In any event, there was another game last night. We were actually facing Justin Verlander and countering with a pitcher who is pitching better than he is. If not for name recognition, Verlander would have been the decided underdog against Justin Masterson, who has looked much more like a Cy Young winner than Verlander since the All-Star break. Between that matchup and the anticipation of seeing Danny Salazar on Wednesday, this series feels like an epic event. With both teams playing much better at home than on the road, the onus is on the Indians to win these next two so they don’t face Max Scherzer on Thursday needing a win to avoid a sweep.
Overall, you have to be pleased with Monday night’s game. As we all know, there have been times this year when the Indians have looked overmatched against elite teams. Nothing of the sort happened. The defense was outstanding, Cory Kluber made every pitch he needed to make, Miguel Cabrera was held in check. You can criticize Francona for sticking with Perez when it was obvious he didn’t have his best stuff, but every other manager in baseball would have done what Tito did, and Perez had earned the trust.
The bottom line for the Indians is that if the rotation keeps going like this they will stay in the race. It will be interesting to see what they will do if Salazar has another strong performance. Even though Ubaldo Jimenez has been frustrating at times and has taxed the bullpen more than you would like, it would be difficult to justify removing him from the rotation for a rookie.
A couple of weeks ago I would have thought Scott Kazmir would be moved to the bullpen for the stretch drive. With his history of arm trouble and the fact that he hasn’t pitched this many innings in several years, that still may be a smart move, but as long as he keeps putting up zeroes he will stay in the rotation.
The one starter I don’t feel warm and fuzzy about at this point is Zach McAllister. There is no arguing that he hit the wall in the sixth inning in his last start, which means that his arm strength may not be all the way back. That will be something to watch for on Thursday. If it happens again, the Indians may decide McAllister can help more in middle relief, where an extra arm would be huge, than spend the rest of the year hoping he can get past the fifth inning. The guy is still part of the future, but in a pennant race you go with the hot hand.