Naquin Secures Tribe Comeback with Pinch-Hit Sac Fly Walk-off; Indians 5, White Sox 4
Bob Toth | On 18, Aug 2016
Tyler Naquin’s pinch-hit sacrifice fly to center drove in Abraham Almonte from third to give the Indians a walk-off series clincher in the bottom of the ninth inning on Thursday as Cleveland defeated the Chicago White Sox, 5-4.
Naquin got himself an on-the-field shower and kept himself ready while on the bench for eight innings. He would see just one pitch at the plate, but he made it count for a W.
The Indians had slowly but surely scratched their way back into the game after a three-run first inning deficit created by starting pitcher Danny Salazar. The White Sox score would grow to four runs, but the Indians scored steadily in each of the final five innings to take home the victory.
With the score tied at four heading into the bottom of the ninth, Jacob Turner (1-2, 8.59 ERA) took over on the mound for the White Sox in relief of Nate Jones. Almonte served as an ungracious host, driving his 1-1 pitch deep to the right-center field gap for a leadoff double. Roberto Perez stepped to the plate and saw just one pitch while in a sacrifice opportunity, but the pitch got away from Chicago catcher Omar Narvaez, allowing Almonte to advance to third. Manager Terry Francona went to his bench and brought on rookie outfielder Naquin to pinch-hit one ball into the at bat, and he immediately slapped a fly ball to Adam Eaton in center. His throw to the plate was not in time as Almonte scored the winning walk-off run.
From the jump, it felt like the kind of game that had gotten away from the Indians early, especially after the poor effort from Salazar in his return from the disabled list and the early struggles for the Indians offense. Salazar barely escaped the first and put his club in a big hole early after walking Eaton and Tyler Saladino to start the game. Melky Cabrera flied to right, but Jose Abreu drew a walk to load the bases. Justin Morneau cleared the deck with a double to left-center to give the White Sox a 3-0 lead. Todd Frazier and Tim Anderson were both retired, but it took 34 pitches from Salazar, who struggled with his command and was done before the start of the second.
Chicago starter Carlos Rodon pitched with traffic through the first five innings, but on four separate occasions was aided by double play balls behind him. Prior to the fourth of the inning killers in the fifth, the Indians scored their first run after a leadoff double from Carlos Santana was followed by an RBI-single to center from Jose Ramirez to make it a 3-1 game. With a speedy base runner on and nobody out, Brandon Guyer grounded sharply to Frazier at third, who went around the horn for the double play, bringing that threat to a close.
The Indians got another run back off of Rodon in the sixth. Perez singled to right to start the frame and Jason Kipnis parked a deep drive INTO the scoreboard in the left field wall for the ground rule double. Francisco Lindor swung at the very next pitch, taking Rodon the opposite way to right to make it a 3-2 game.
Mike Clevinger saved the Indians staff and rotation with a huge effort in relief. Kyle Crockett pitched a perfect second inning after Salazar exited and Clevinger jumped into the game to start the third inning. He fired off four strong innings of relief work, giving up one run late on two hits with a walk and four strikeouts. The run was made possible after Anderson doubled to left to start the inning and handed the game over to Dan Otero, who allowed a sacrifice to move up Anderson and a single by Narvaez to make it a 4-2 contest.
The slow and steady effort from the Indians offense continued in the seventh as Chris Beck took over in relief of Rodon. With one out, Almonte doubled and moved to third on a grounder to short from Perez. With the inning on the line, Rajai Davis delivered with a big double to the left field corner to drive home Almonte to again make it a one-run game.
Otero threw a quick and efficient three-up, three-down inning in the eighth, keeping the score right where the Indians offense wanted it. Mike Napoli drew a one-out walk off of Jones and moved to second on a wild pitch. Ramirez then contributed big in the clutch again with a single to right, scoring a hard charging Napoli all the way from second with the tying run.
Andrew Miller (7-1, 1.47), who earned the win in relief for his scoreless top of the ninth, struck out the first two batters he faced before giving up a pinch-hit doubled to Jason Coats. Dioner Navarro did not have the same pinch-hitting luck, flying to right-center to end the last scoring chance for Chicago before Cleveland won it.
Cleveland (69-50) pushed their lead back to six games in the American League Central Division with the big win to secure the series against Chicago (57-63). They have won eight of their last nine against the White Sox and are 9-3 against the Pale Hose this season.
SALAZAR’S STRANGE SHORT OUTING
Salazar was activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game, but there is no doubt that the club was hoping for more in his return. After his strikeout of Anderson, he exited the ball game with just one inning worked. He walked three, loading the bases before the double by Morneau.
Following his removal from the game, Salazar returned to the bullpen and put in three innings of simulated game work, likely addressing the flaws that had him all over the place in his 34 pitches (16 strikes) of work on the night.
“I don’t think [it was mechanical]. I just think he was rusty and you could tell right from the very beginning that he couldn’t really find the plate,” said Francona. “That was probably almost our worst case scenario was throwing that many pitches in the first inning. I was really getting concerned because the things we talked about before the game.
“What we did was we sent him out to the bullpen. It almost looked more like a spring training game, which was not really our goal. But we had to find a way to get him lengthened out, so he went out and threw three more up and downs, just because we didn’t want this start to go to waste. We’re trying to win the game, we’re trying to protect him. Fortunately, it worked out.”
Prior to the game, Francona had indicated that the team had no intentions on Salazar coming back and throwing 100 pitches, but instead was going to watch how he commanded his pitches. Their hope was to get him back “incrementally” over the course of the next six weeks and was not as concerned about a specific pitch-count number.
CLEVINGER SAVES PITCHING STAFF
The only blemish on Clevinger’s stat sheet was a late double that came around to score off of Otero. On what would have been his day to start had it not been for the activation of Salazar prior to the game. In his unscheduled appearance, he threw four innings, giving up a run on two hits with a walk and four strikeouts. Forty-two of his 66 pitches were for strikes on the night.
“I thought Clev was outstanding,” said Francona. “He gave up a couple of hits, one was at the end there. He was really good. So that was good. Even when a night starts bad, you kinda got something to hang your hat on, because he did a really good job.”
RAMIREZ CLUTCH IN THE CLUTCH
With two more hits on the day, Ramirez pushed his season batting average to .312. He was 2-for-4 with two runs batted in.
With runners on base and two outs, he is hitting .423 with one homer and 25 RBI on the year.
RODON DID HIS PART
Rodon gave the White Sox a quality effort and it was a tough no-decision for the young left-hander, who held the Indians to just two runs over six innings of work. He allowed eight hits, but was aided by four double play balls behind him to reduce several Indians scoring opportunities. He struck out five and threw 100 pitches, 61 for strikes.
In its 22nd season, the Indians secured their 1,000th win at Progressive Field with the victory on Thursday night.
O FANS, WHERE ART THOU?
Fewer than 13,000 fans were in attendance for the Indians-White Sox series finale on a busy night from downtown Cleveland. While the weather was far more cooperative and predictable on Thursday, the city was hosting a pair of big events, including the Paul McCartney concert at the neighboring Quicken Loans Arena and the preseason NFL game between the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons on the lake shore.
The Indians will welcome in the AL East leading Toronto Blue Jays to town for a three-game series this weekend to conclude the club’s eleven-game homestand.
Right-hander Trevor Bauer (9-5, 3.97) is scheduled to start for the Tribe while left-hander Francisco Liriano (6-12, 5.46) will throw for the Blue Jays. It will be Liriano’s third start for Toronto after his trade deadline day acquisition by the Jays from the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is 0-1 in his return to the American League with a 5.40 ERA.
First pitch on Friday night is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images