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We’ve arrived at the time of year where the Prospectus
Game of the Week starts to enter deja vu land. With 28
of the 30 teams covered, we’re going to focus on games
with playoff implications down the stretch. (With the
exception of Sunday Sept. 11–tune in to see the final
two teams we haven’t yet covered, the Rockies and Diamondbacks, do
battle, in hot NL West action!) Getting a second look
at a team, a lineup, or even a single player can be
illuminating, especially when seen several months
after first exposure.

When we last left the Indians seven weeks ago, for
instance, the team looked like a fringe playoff
contender, buoyed by a solid core of offensive talent,
above-average starting pitching, and players such as
Aaron Boone and Casey
Blake
who by dint of sheer regression to the
mean figured to add to the team’s second-half success.
Yet that day’s column focused
more on the demise of
Randy
Johnson
as a top-flight pitcher than on a
possible Cleveland playoff run.

Not this time. A win in this game against the fading
Blue Jays would give them a 5-2 road trip, keeping
them within one game of the wild-card lead. With
perhaps the most balanced team among the wild-card
contenders (the Yankees, Twins, and the loser of the
A’s/Angels AL West battle), they’ve served notice–the
Indians are for real.


CF Grady Sizemore
LF Coco Crisp
SS Jhonny Peralta
DH Travis Hafner
C  Victor Martinez
2B Ron Belliard
1B Ben Broussard
3B Aaron Boone
RF Casey Blake

Victor Martinez, who despite a far
superior pedigree joined Boone and Blake in Mendoza
Land
in the first few weeks of the season, has
come roaring back. Heading into Sunday’s game he was
hitting .600 (15 for 25) on the road trip. For the
year Martinez has bumped his EqA
up five points (.291 vs. .286) from his excellent 2004
campaign, no mean feat for someone hitting
.193/.263/.273 as of May 28. With Travis
Hafner
further asserting himself as one of
the best hitters in the game after a breakout 2004
season, Jhonny Peralta looking like
Miguel Tejada Jr., and rising talents
like Grady Sizemore coming on, this
is a dangerous lineup.

It’ll have to be a patient lineup, facing Josh
Towers
. In his last seven starts entering
Sunday’s game, Towers had put up a 2.34 ERA, tossing
50 innings and yielding four walks; his 1.3
walks per nine innings ranks sixth in the AL. Armed with
a darting cut fastball, curve, slider and change-up, the
Indians should expect him to be in and around the
strike zone all day.

True to form, Towers comes out throwing strikes. The
problem with having great control but only lukewarm
stuff, though, is that good hitters can spoil the
tough pitches and drive the one where you let up.
Sizemore starts the game by working Towers for nine
pitches, fouling off an assortment of well-placed
slop. A 10th-pitch slider gets slammed off the
right-field wall, and just like that the Indians are
in business.

Coco Crisp follows with a bunt.
Veterans of GotW anti-bunt
tirades
need not fear, though–this was a
well-placed drag bunt that nearly went for a hit, a
nifty play by Towers just nailing Crisp.

That brings up Jhonny Peralta, who’s
quietly put up a monster season, ranking an improbable
11th
in the AL in VORP
, just behind Gary
Sheffield
, Manny Ramirez and
Vladimir Guerrero. This was the guy,
remember, who at one point looked to be held back
while the Indians groomed Brandon
Phillips
to be the team’s next great
middle-infield prospect. But huge years at Triple-A in
’04 at age 22 and in the majors in ’05 at 23 have put
those thoughts to rest. Peralta still walks less than
once every 10 times up, though–this time he swings at
the first pitch and grounds out to third, failing to
cash the run.

The Tribe get nothing, thanks to a great play by
all-bargain team catcher Gregg Zaun.
On a 1-1 count, Hafner takes a fastball for strike
two. On an apparent designed play, Corey
Koskie
streaks over to the bag, where he
receives a perfect throw from Zaun and slaps the tag
on Sizemore, who was only barely leaning. Picked off,
inning over. This would be the first of many sparkling
defensive plays in the Web Gemmiest GotW of the year.


SS Russ Adams
LF Frank Catalanotto
CF Vernon Wells
3B Corey Koskie
1B Shea Hillenbrand
C  Gregg Zaun
DH Eric Hinske
RF Reed Johnson
2B Orlando Hudson

It’s the return of Jake Westbrook!
GotW’s second viewing of Westbrook this year reads
like the first. Westbrook comes in with the highest
GB/FB ratio in the AL and an ERA and W-L record well
behind last year’s 14-8, 3.38 mark despite similar
peripherals to 2004. This demonstrates both the unpredictable
fluctuations those stats often show and the dangers a
pitcher who puts a lot of balls in play faces, with the outcome of his starts largely placed in the hands of his defense. In fact,
Towers and Westbrook are extremely similar pitchers,
the main difference in this case being Towers’
groundballs have been turned into outs more often in
’05 than ’04, resulting in the reverse effect of
Westbrook’s last two years.

Impressive rookie shortstop Russ
Adams
leads off by grounding out to second,
one of many knocks induced by Westbrook in Ron
Belliard
‘s direction on the afternoon.
Frank Catalanotto then follows with a
ringing one-out double. (Check out this old Q&A
Keith Law did with Catalanotto
eight-and-a-half
years ago, before he helped nudge J.P. Ricciardi to
sign him–the best part may be the Jose
Lima
comment at the end.) The Jays continue
to hit Westbrook hard, but get no luck: Vernon
Wells
hits a hard liner up the middle, but
Belliard, shaded that way, snags it; Koskie crushes a
long drive into the upper deck in right that goes foul
before reaching on a HBP; Shea
Hillenbrand
hits another shot, resulting in
another good play, this time a sliding pickup by
Ben Broussard and a flip to Westbrook
for the out.

More defense:

  • With one out in the third, Adams loses a ball in the high
    sky in foul ground behind third base, then spots the ball
    at the last moment and makes a lunging catch after
    falling down.

  • After a Hillenbrand leadoff single in the fourth,
    Westbrook stabs a comebacker and throws toward second.
    Peralta swoops to the bag, snares the throw coming
    across, takes one step, vaults over Hillenbrand and
    completes the double play.

  • On the next pitch, Eric Hinske
    crushes a long drive to left. On a dead run, Crisp
    crashes into the wall and makes the catch.

  • With one out in the eighth, Hillenbrand smashes a pitch
    to center. Sizemore races all the way to the wall and
    hauls it in on the run.

And we haven’t discussed the best defensive display of
the game yet. More on that in a minute.

Partially due to great Tribe defense but also to
generally squandered opportunities, the Jays let the
game slip away from them. Zaun, Hinske and
Russ Johnson start the 2nd with
singles, giving Toronto a 1-0 lead and putting runners
on first and second with no one out. But Westbrook
throws a wicked fastball that tails back over the
inside corner to punch out Orlando
Hudson
for the first out. (Rick Manning, a
sharp color commentator for the Indians who impressed
all game long with his observation, astutely notes how
it’s the same pitch Westbrook threw to Koskie that
just missed being a homer in the first, only with much
better location.) Adams then lines a 1-0 fastball
right to Boone, who quickly turns a 5-4 double play to
end the inning. The Jays then strand one in the fifth,
two more in the sixth, managing only that one run.

Meanwhile the Indians scrape together just five hits
in seven innings against Towers. But all five are
shots: solo homers by Boone and Blake, ringing doubles
by Sizemore, Hafner and Peralta. Combined with two
Jays errors–it wasn’t all a defensive clinic, but
then what would you expect from Shea
Hillenbrand?–that’s enough for the Indians to tally
four runs.

Still, the Jays come up in the seventh down by three and
looking to mount a threat. Only Belliard–a
below-average defender for most of his career who
according to BP’s fielding stats is having a
renaissance of sorts this year–suddenly puts on a
show. Johnson leads off the inning with a shot up the
middle that’s almost directly behind second. Belliard
ranges far, far to his right, takes three small steps,
then fires a Jordanesque fallaway jump shot to first
to nip Johnson by an eyelash. Westbrook smiles over at
Belliard and pumps his fist. Hudson drives a one-strike
offering to deep center for a double, another hard-hit
ball off Westbrook, raising concerns he might be done.
When an Adams high chopper induces a nonchalant–and
wild–throw from Peralta, the Jays have runners at the
corners with one out, and Westbrook’s pulled from the
game.

But wait, there’s more Belliard. With the Indians
bringing in lefty Scott Sauerbeck to
face Catalanotto, the Jays counter with
righty-swinging Alexis Rios. On the
first pitch, Rios does just what the Jays want him to, whacking a
liner up the middle–only Belliard makes another
sparkling play, snaring the liner and nearly turning
an impossible 4-3 double play. The Indians then bring
in Bobby Howry to face Wells. By now
both the Indians announcers and the entire dugout are
buzzing over Belliard’s defensive display. On the
second pitch, Wells lines another shot up the
middle–and Belliard grabs it again, making a spinning
play on a short-hopped screamer and throwing him out
to end the inning. In the inning Bellliard makes
dazzling plays for three different pitchers, and all
three go to greet him, smiling–nearly laughing–at
how their unassuming second baseman has suddenly
turned into Ozzie Smith in a cameo
appearance at the deuce.

When the errr… horizontally gifted Bob
Wickman
sets the Jays down in order in the
ninth, the Tribe walk away with a 4-1 win and another
successful road trip.

Thinking about two of the hottest teams in their
respective leagues, one can’t help but imagine a
possible World Series rematch of the Indians and Marlins, if a few
things go both teams’ way. A year ago, who could have
imagined Todd Jones and Bob Wickman
as effective major league pitchers, let alone
successful closers on contending clubs? Close your
eyes and imagine a World Series Game Seven, 10th inning,
0-0 tie, Jones and Wickman dueling for the fate of the
baseball world. I Live For This, indeed.

The next Prospectus Game of the Week happens Sunday,
Sept. 4, as the Houston Astros battle the St. Louis
Cardinals at 2 p.m. ET, Channel 739 on DirecTV.
Chris Carpenter goes for his 20th win
against Wandy Rodriguez as the
pennant race heats up.

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