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September 25, 2013

What You Need to Know

Cleveland Socks

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
Game one of two between the Indians and White Sox was a seesaw affair.

Cleveland got on the board first in the bottom of the second on an RBI single by Michael Brantley. The visitors tied it on a fourth-inning sacrifice fly by Avisail Garcia and grabbed a one-run lead of their own on a run-scoring knock by Alejandro De Aza. Moments later, Brantley countered with a solo shot that knotted the score again, and Jason Kipnis drove in a go-ahead tally with a single. And so the game went into the ninth inning with the Progressive Field scoreboard reading Indians 3, White Sox 2.

Chris Perez promptly coughed up that edge on a big fly by Dayan Viciedo. He struck out the next two batters he faced. And then the White Sox—eager to play spoiler—earned their second lead of the night on another long ball, this one by De Aza.

With the Rangers hosting the Astros—the team the Indians swept over the weekend—after entering play a game behind the Tribe, the margin of error for Terry Francona’s team was razor-thin. As ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweeted, the homers by Viciedo and De Aza “were daggers.” If the Indians fell just short in their bid to secure a wild card spot, this loss would sting as much as any.

Cleveland came within an out of defeat with Addison Reed on the hill for Chicago in the bottom of the ninth. Brantley singled between strikeouts by Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles, and Francona was down to his last chance, with the bat in the hands of Matt Carson, who had delivered a walk-off victory on September 19.

Carson, batting .700 in limited action, did his part that day, but Francona had someone else in mind for this assignment. Up stepped Jason Giambi, 42 years old and hitting below the Mendoza line for the season, but an imposing presence in the box nonetheless. With the count even at 1-1, Reed went down and in with a slider, and Giambi sent it high and far:

With one swing, frustration turned into elation, and the Indians’ magic number dropped to five. Giambi was already the oldest player in major-league history to hit a walk-off home run, so he merely broke his own record while tying a franchise high with his third pinch-hit blast of the year.

When you’re batting .181 and your manager has a man-crush on you, you’re doing something right. The Indians, winners of five in a row and 10 of 12, are doing plenty of things right as the season winds down. But the Rangers kept pace with a 3-2 win over the Astros, so the pressure will be on again this evening.

Quick Hits from Tuesday

In a Lineup Card entry earlier this month, Matt Sussman wrote that he’d spend September watching for another no-hitter, wondering what sort of odds a casino might give for gamblers to wager on the pitcher who would author the next one.

Those who dared to choose Yusmeiro Petit could not have been held liable for their actions when the journeyman’s perfect game attempt earlier this month fell to the ground, inches away from the glove of Hunter Pence, one strike and one out short of the history books. Michael Wacha’s bettors suffered a similar fate on Tuesday night.

Facing a Nationals lineup now playing purely for pride, the 22-year-old Wacha showcased the stuff and polish that made him a first-round pick and helped him to race through the minors. He was perfect through 4 2/3 innings, and quickly worked around an error by second baseman Matt Carpenter to stay one over the minimum through six. Wacha issued a leadoff walk to Ryan Zimmerman to start the seventh, but the Nats’ third baseman was stranded on first, and he stayed two over the minimum through eight.

The Texas A&M product threw 112 pitches, but his fastball velocity, which averaged 95 mph and touched 98, never wavered, hitting 96 in the ninth. Wacha induced a groundout from Steve Lombardozzi before Denard Span battled to a full count.

Span saw seven straight fastballs to begin his ninth-inning plate appearance, and with Wacha’s velocity holding firm, the leadoff man had to respect the heat. So Wacha turned to his bread and butter: the changeup, planting it over the outer third and freezing Span for his ninth strikeout of the night.

Zimmerman, the last man standing between Wacha and a no-hitter, wanted no part of the changeup. He was looking for a fastball to put in play and let the BABIP overlords decide Wacha’s fate.

Unfortunately for the rookie, the overlords had Zimmerman’s back. His soft bouncer tipped off Wacha’s glove, which slowed it just enough to make an already-difficult play for shortstop Pete Kozma a smidge too challenging. Kozma barehanded it and fired a bit wide of first, where Matt Adams’ swipe tag missed Zimmerman by a few inches.

Wacha, who got the hook from manager Mike Matheny once history was off the table, settled for 8 2/3 shutout innings. Trevor Rosenthal did the rest in the 2-0 Cardinals victory.

All of which means that Wade Miley, who worked six scoreless frames for the Diamondbacks shortly after Wacha’s outing, and on whom Sussman wagered two gold coins three weeks ago, might still be next in line. The southpaw is scheduled to get the ball in game 162 on Sunday afternoon. His opponent? The very same Nationals who narrowly averted a no-no last night.

***

There’s effectively wild. There’s Effectively Wild. And then there’s what Matt Moore was at Yankee Stadium last night.

It’s tough to walk six batters in five or fewer innings without allowing a run. Only Miley and Trevor Bauer managed to do that earlier this year, and fewer than a dozen pitchers had pulled it off in the last decade. It’s even tougher to do all of that while throwing at least one wild pitch. Only five starting pitchers had turned in such a Houdini act since 1916 (the start of the Baseball-Reference Play Index era), most recently Carlos Zambrano on July 6, 2002, and none of them threw more than one wild pitch. Moore uncorked three.

Even if we stripped away the innings limit and gave starters as many frames as they needed to scatter six bases on balls and three wild pitches without allowing a run, only one—Roger Pavlik on May 2, 1992—could have won a bet claiming to have done it. Pavlik needed six innings. Moore got it done in five.

The three runs the Rays scored in the first inning proved to be ample support for Moore and the bullpen, but this wasn’t quite the postseason tune-up Joe Maddon envisioned for his young southpaw. Then again, the only other active pitcher with a five-inning, three-wild-pitch, winning outing under his belt is Freddy Garcia. Fourteen years later, Garcia has a 1.65 ERA in six games (three starts) for the Braves and projects to be their fourth starter in October. It might not be such a bad sign, after all.

Defensive Play(s) of the Day
Juan Lagares may never attain 2,000 hits or 600 stolen bases. But Lagares needed only 117 big-league games to notch his 13th outfield assist.

It took Juan Pierre 485 games to do that.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • The Cardinals mathematically eliminated the Nationals from the postseason in the series opener on Monday night, but the Nats could get a hint of revenge by coming away with this afternoon’s finale. Mike Matheny’s team is not yet out of the woods when it comes to securing the National League Central crown for the first time since 2009—and, looking one step ahead, the Redbirds, 50-27 at their home yard this season, are a half-game behind the Braves for home-field advantage throughout the pennant chase. Shelby Miller, who gets the ball for the Cards in the matinee, would love to stay in St. Louis as much as possible; he has a 1.77 ERA in 15 starts at the friendly confines this year. But today, Miller will square off with a formidable opponent in Jordan Zimmermann, who will attempt to become the first right-hander in franchise history to deliver a 20-win season (1:45 p.m. ET).

  • Danny Salazar lasted six innings in his most recent start, a loss to the Royals, but it was, by most other measures, a poorer effort than his previous two. The Indians have put the kid gloves on the 23-year-old right-hander, who fanned eight Mets in four innings on September 8 and nine White Sox in 3 2/3 innings on September 13, but Salazar isn’t making it easy for manager Terry Francona to give him the hook. With a tenuous grasp on the second American League wild card berth, the Tribe needs a lower number in the runs-allowed column from Salazar tonight, even if it means a lower one in the innings column, too. The right-hander is matched up with Dylan Axelrod in his second battle against the White Sox this month (7:05 p.m. ET).

  • Pop quiz: Can you name the last Phillies pitcher saddled with 15 losses in a season? Cole Hamels is dangerously close to joining that dubious club, which hasn’t welcomed a member since 1997 and, before that, hadn’t expanded since 1989. Hamels righted his ship for good in early July after a rough first three months, and he has amassed a 2.67 ERA to go with a 97-to-15 K:BB ratio over his last 15 starts. The 29-year-old lefty went nearly two months, from July 26 to September 20, without suffering a setback, but the Mets tagged him for six runs in seven innings to end that streak. Now, Hamels must at least notch a no-decision versus the Marlins to avoid going from 17-6 to 8-15 in the course of a year. If he fails, he’ll inherit the collar currently worn by Mark Leiter (7:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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