It’s why games aren’t played on paper.
On paper, the Indians appeared to be a deficit heading into today’s game, struggling to score runs still and left-handed Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale on the mound against less-than-consistent Zach McAllister.
But games don’t always play out as they appear as McAllister outdueled Sale for a 9-4 Indians win on Saturday afternoon. Sale was not dominant and eventually lost his cool, while McAllister pitched through early struggles for a fine effort and Mark Reynolds had one of the better days of his career to provide all the offense the Indians would need.
“He’s a young pitcher that is gaining experience,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I thought the command of his fastball today was tremendous. He started the game out with an error and we give up a couple runs, we got right back and he settled in throwing a lot of quality strikes. That’s a great way to pitch.”
The White Sox took the lead right away in the top of the first inning. With one out, Jeff Keppinger doubled down the left field line. The next hitter, Alex Rios, grounded to first, but Reynolds’ throw to McAllister covering was wide of his glove and allowed Rios to advance to second and Keppinger to score. After Adam Dunn flied out to right field to advance Rios to third, Paul Konerko singled him home to give the White Sox a 2-0 lead.
However, the Indians were still riding some of their late-inning dramatics from Friday night when they headed to the plate in their own half of the first inning. With two out and no one on, Ryan Raburn walked before Nick Swisher hit a two-run home run to the left field bleachers, tying the game at two after an inning of play. It was Swisher’s first home run of the season.
McAllister looked as if he would continue to struggle in the second inning when he allowed back-to-back singles to Conor Gillaspie and Alexei Ramirez, but struck out Tyler Flowers and Alejandro De Aza before getting Keppinger to ground out. It was the beginning of McAllister settling in to the game. He retired the next 11 hitters he faced.
“I felt okay,” McAllister said. “After the first two innings I settled down and let the ball go a little bit better and I had better results.”
Swisher sparked the Indians offense again in the third inning when he hit a two-out double off the left field wall. Mark Reynolds followed with a base hit to center field to score Swisher and give the Indians a 3-2 lead after three innings.
Cleveland blew the game open in the bottom of the fifth inning, plating six runs. Asdrubal Cabrera singled to lead off the inning, followed by Raburn doubling high off the left field wall to put runners on second and third. Swisher was hit by a pitch to load the bases before Reynolds hit a mammoth grand slam home run about half way up the left field bleachers to make it 7-2 Indians. It was Reynolds’ fifth home run of the season.
“They had nowhere to put me,” Reynolds said. “I got a curveball up in the zone and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Reynolds had five runs batted in on the day for the Tribe. It was the fifth time in Reynolds’ career that he had five RBIs in a game.
“He’s so strong,” Francona said. “Hitting the ball out to left field today was no easy task. He is so strong, when he stays through the ball like that it is so pretty to watch.”
On the very next pitch, Sale (1-1) drilled Michael Brantley with a pitch in the left thigh. After retiring Mike Aviles, he was removed from the game. Sale, who often dominates the Indians, was roughed up, allowing eight hits, eight runs—all earned—while walking two and striking out three in four and two-third innings of work.
“He’s real tough on righties and lefties,” Reynolds said of Sale. “He’s got that big sweeping curveball and you really have to stay on him and hope to barrel a couple up. Swish tying the game in the first inning made some guys settle down and we were able to put some good at bats together.”
McAllister (1-1) started the seventh inning, but wouldn’t finish. After retiring Gillaspie, he hit Ramirez on the right elbow and Francona relieved him with Bryan Shaw. After Shaw got Flowers to pop out to second base, De Aza hit a two-run home run to right field, his second of the year, cutting the score to 9-4 and closing the book on McAllister. He pitched six and one-third innings, allowing five hits, three runs, but only one earned, while striking out six and walking no one.
“This is a pretty tough kid, what he needs is experience,” Francona said. “The only way to get experience is to live through it. But, he handles himself really well.”
McAllister threw 66 strikes of 89 pitches, pounding the zone and staying ahead of hitters all afternoon. It was a formula to his success.
“It’s extremely important,” McAllister said. “I think any time you can get ahead of hitters and be aggressive in the strike zone, your defense is ready behind you, you’ll be successful.”
“When I’m aggressive and letting the ball go, it comes out a little better for me,” McAllister said. “The first couple innings I was feeling for it a little bit. After that, I was just settled in with the right mindset of letting the ball go and trusting it would go to the right spot.”
Shaw finished the inning before Nick Hagadone worked a clean eighth inning and Joe Smith a scoreless ninth giving the Indians their fifth win of the season. The Indians complete their first ten games—filled with roster moves, injuries, rainouts, suspensions and starting pitching implosions—at 5-5.
“This was a tough cold day, but it doesn’t feel so bad when you are winning,” Francona said.
Cleveland will try to sweep the series from Chicago tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 p.m. The Indians will send Brett Myers (0-1, 12.19 ERA) to the mound while the White Sox will counter with Jake Peavy (1-1, 5.56 ERA).
Photo: Mark Duncan/Associated Press