Lindor’s Ninth Inning Slam Caps Cleveland’s Big Comeback; Indians 9, Rangers 6
Bob Toth | On 05, Apr 2017
A ninth inning grand slam by Francisco Lindor off of closer Sam Dyson capped a five-run frame as the Cleveland Indians stunned the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night, 9-6, to complete the three-game season opening sweep over the reigning AL West champs.
As if the grand slam was not a special moment for the face of the Indians’ franchise, it was part of a three-hit, two-homer game for the young shortstop, who more than made up for a defensive miscue in the fifth inning that gave the Rangers a three-run inning and a 5-3 lead at the time.
The late Cleveland comeback was the second time this week that the team has stung Texas’ closer Dyson with a big loss. The Indians rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth against him on Monday in a 5-5 tie in the season opener and chased him early from the contest. He came in with a safer 6-4 lead on Wednesday, but it appears as though no lead is safe when facing the potent Indians lineup.
Yandy Diaz got things going for the Tribe against Dyson to start the ninth, sending a 2-2 pitch into center for a single. He moved up to second on a shot the other way by Tyler Naquin before a lineout by Yan Gomes to right. Abraham Almonte loaded the bases with a walk and Dyson lost the zone completely against Carlos Santana, throwing him four straight balls to force in a run to make it a 6-5 game. With the count at 1-1, Lindor hooked a deep drive to right that avoided the foul pole and landed in the seats for a grand slam. The first career slam for Lindor gave the Indians a 9-6 lead and ended Dyson’s night early again.
Bryan Shaw came on to close the game out, as both Cody Allen and Andrew Miller had worked the previous two games. Shaw struck out strikeout machine Joey Gallo swinging before getting a pop up from Elvis Andrus and a liner to short by Drew Robinson to end it and earn his first save of the season.
It was a three-run fifth inning made possible by a defensive mistake by Lindor that gave the Rangers a lead that they held until the ninth inning rally.
Cleveland starter Danny Salazar had just been given a 3-2 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth inning when Texas put together its biggest inning of the night. Jonathan Lucroy singled to center and Gallo worked a walk to put two on with nobody out. Salazar came back and struck out Indians killer Andrus after several balls fouled off and Delino DeShields popped up his first pitch behind the plate to catcher Roberto Perez for the second out. Nearly out of the jam, Salazar’s pitch to Shin-Soo Choo was grounded up the middle. Lindor and second baseman Jose Ramirez were both playing back and the Tribe shortstop fielded the ball and attempted to outrace Gallo to the bag but did not make it in time. Compounding the play, Lindor fired quickly to Edwin Encarnacion, but the first baseman missed what appeared to be a catchable throw that may have caught him by surprise and handcuffed him. The error allowed both Lucroy and Gallo to score and Texas moved back on top, 4-3. Nomar Mazara followed with a single to center that plated Choo, but was erased trying to go to second on the play. The damage, however, was done as the Rangers had a 5-3 lead at the time.
Lindor jumped on the second pitch of his next at bat with one out in the top of the sixth, sending the Cole Hamels’ offering into the seats in left for a solo home run to make it a 5-4 game, as his stoic appearance rounding the bases showed a player beating himself up some while lacking the familiar smile fans have grown accustomed to. But the one-run deficit was short-lived as the Rangers would add another run in the bottom of the seventh as Andrus took Dan Otero yard to put Texas back up by two.
The Rangers took an early lead three batters into the home half of the first against Salazar. The Indians starter struck out Deshields before walking Choo. Mazara started his big night at the plate with a big blast, his first of the year, to put Texas out in front, 2-0. Mazara would go 3-for-4 on the night with two singles, the home run, and three runs batted in.
Hamels had made quick work of the Indians the first time through the order, retiring nine straight with four strikeouts before the first Cleveland hitter reached base leading off the fourth when Santana singled to left. Lindor followed with a single of his own the same way, but Brandon Guyer popped up and Encarnacion grounded to short to put the rally on the brink of an end. Instead, the Indians’ little two-out RBI machine Ramirez came through in the clutch, slapping a single the opposite way through the hole in the right side of the infield to score both runners before he was caught in a run down and tagged out just short of second base by former teammate Mike Napoli.
The Indians took their first lead of the night the next inning. The rookie Diaz singled to center and moved to second on a throwing error by Hamels on a pickoff attempt. He moved up to third on a groundout by Austin Jackson and came in to score on a deep sacrifice fly to left by Perez to put the Indians on top, 3-2.
The win keeps the Indians (3-0) atop the AL Central after the Twins won their second game of the season over the Kansas City Royals. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox were once again rained out in the Windy City. It was the first three-game sweep by the Tribe at Texas since 2008 and the club’s first 3-0 start to a season since 1998.
SALAZAR SUFFERS BY MISCUE
Salazar’s final line had a little bit of everything to it. While he was able to avoid taking the loss with the team’s ninth inning comeback, he also missed out on a chance for the win because of the big three-run inning allowed by the fielding mistake by Lindor.
The Indians’ All-Star right-hander pitched into the sixth inning, retiring two batters before handing the game over to the bullpen. He may have been effectively wild at times, walking four batters on the night to go with five hits, but he struck out nine after leading the Majors in strikeouts during spring training. He was charged with four earned runs and five total, but the big inning was very much avoidable.
INDIANS ADJUST QUICKLY TO HAMELS
The Rangers’ Hamels had plenty of motivation to start the season strong after a difficult end to his 2016 regular season and a troubling appearance in the ALDS against the Toronto Blue Jays.
He started the night strong, retiring the first nine batters in order with four strikeouts before the Indians figured him out. He gave up three singles in the four, leading to a run, and gave up a hit, a sacrifice fly, and a run in the fifth. His sixth inning included the Lindor homer, a hit by pitch, a wild pitch, and a walk before getting out of the jam with two line outs.
He left after six and allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits with a walk and four strikeouts on 91 pitches.
NOT VERY RISPY
Neither team was very productive when it came to getting hits with runners in scoring position.
The Rangers were 1-for-7 on the night and stranded four as a team. The Indians were 1-for-10 with four left on base until Lindor’s grand slam.
Lindor made his first hits of the season count as he singled and scored in the fourth and then cleared the fence in the sixth with a laser to left for a solo home run. He also stole his first base of the season in the eighth, when he was stranded in scoring position in the two-run game, and added the grand slam to his list of firsts with his game-winning shot in the ninth.
Perez made his first start behind the plate this season catching Salazar and also got his first hit of the 2017 campaign with a single up the middle in the top of the seventh inning. He got his first RBI on the sacrifice fly.
Zach McAllister and Shawn Armstrong made their first relief appearances of the season after Otero exited in the seventh. McAllister worked a scoreless inning, while Armstrong completed the eighth by striking out the only batter that he faced and would vulture the win courtesy of the Tribe’s five-run comeback.
NAPOLI’S HAT TRICK
Salazar was unkind to his former teammate Napoli, who went down on strikes three times on the night against him. He grounded out against McAllister in his final at bat in the seventh.
ON THE MOVE
The Indians and Rangers will both take Thursday off in a cruel twist of fate with baseball less than a week into its regular season and there already exists a day without MLB action for the two clubs.
Cleveland will head back west to the desert and will find its way to Phoenix, home of the National League’s Arizona Diamondbacks for an early season interleague series. Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA in 30 games in 2016) will be the first Tribe pitcher to the mound and potentially to the plate as he faces Arizona for the third time in his career. The righty has a career 1.46 ERA and 0.73 WHIP against them in two previous starts, both no-decisions. Right-hander Shelby Miller (3-12, 6.15 ERA in 20 starts in 2016) is the probable starter for the D’Backs and is coming off of a disastrous season in his first year in Arizona. It will be his first career start against Cleveland.
The Rangers will stay home at Globe Life Park in Arlington and host their American League West rival, the Oakland Athletics.
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez