The Games That Got Away

Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.

It is easy to go back over the course of a season and find games that a team should have won. Generally, there are plenty of options available, whether they come via errors, blown saves, lack of clutch hitting, or unexpectedly poor pitching performances.

When a team finishes on the outside of the postseason by just a handful of games, these games, these missed opportunities, become so much more significant.

If you watched the Cleveland Indians this season, you already know that they gave more than their fair share of games away to their opposition.

Every win and loss is important on its own, regardless the page of the calendar. To follow are ten such games that have come back to haunt the Indians after an 85-77 season and a third place finish in the American League Central Division, five games in back there and three games outside of the Wild Card picture. The list is in chronological order, but any of these losses came back to hurt the Tribe’s final tally, in addition to the rest of the losses on the cutting room floor.

Don’t forget your tissues.

Sunday, April 13th, 2014Chicago 4, Cleveland 3

It can be difficult to say a loss on the second Sunday of the season was big, but this missed opportunity in Chicago set the stage for an unsettled bullpen in the early going for the Tribe.

Corey Kluber pitched seven and one-third innings of solid baseball, working around eight hits with six strikeouts and keeping damage to a minimum in a quality start, but left after giving up a tie-breaking solo home run to Marcus Semien in the bottom of the eighth. White Sox lefty Jose Quintana matched Kluber’s effort but was out of the game when the Indians struck through against Sox closer Matt Lindstrom. An error and back-to-back singles tied the game and three batters later Yan Gomes scored on a wild pitch to give Cleveland a 3-2 lead.

Enter John Axford and, rather quickly, the game was over. In his seventh appearance of the season and fifth save opportunity, Ax walked the leadoff man, who stole second and jogged home one batter later as Alexei Ramirez turned the first pitch he saw into a walk-off souvenir.

Sunday, April 27th, 2014San Francisco 4, Cleveland 1

The Indians fared rather poorly in their late April West Coast trip through San Francisco and Los Angeles. After dropping each of their first two games in the Bay Area, the Tribe looked desperate for runs to support strong seven innings on the mound from Danny Salazar, who struck out eight and allowed just one run on five hits.

Cleveland could not get to San Francisco’s starter, but they wasted no time getting to the first man out of the bullpen, Santiago Casilla. Catcher Gomes belted a game-tying solo homer to lead off the eighth to tie the game 1-1.

Cody Allen came on in the bottom of the ninth and in one of the few moments this season, he did not have his best luck with him. Buster Posey led off the inning with a single and was sacrificed over to second. A swinging strikeout of Pablo Sandoval had Allen one out away from extra innings. Playing the matchup card, Terry Francona had Allen intentionally walk the light-hitting left-handed Brandon Crawford for righty Brandon Hicks. The move failed and Hicks cleared the deck with a walk-off blast to left.

Hicks would hit eight home runs and drive in 22 this season while batting .162.

Sunday, May 4th, 2014Chicago 4, Cleveland 3

Cleveland carried a 3-1 lead into the top of the ninth. With five straight converted saves and nine of ten on the season, closer Axford was called upon, one day after earning an easy save against Chicago.

The White Sox were responsible for his first blown save and this day would be no different. Axford walked the leadoff man but struck out the dangerous Jose Abreu before a second walk. One swing from Dayan Viciedo and an opposite field shot gave the Sox a surprising 4-3 lead. Lindstrom would allow the tying run to reach second base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but Asdrubal Cabrera struck out to end it.

It wasted a strong outing from Kluber (one run on three hits over eight innings), who struck out a career-high 13 batters, including a span of seven straight, setting a franchise record. The Indians, meanwhile, would struggle for much of the first half of the season against the White Sox before finishing with a 10-9 record against their divisional foe.

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014Arizona 9, Cleveland 8

It was a wild slugfest in the wild, wild west, but the Indians were snake-bitten on this night.

After Gomes tied up the game in the ninth inning with a two-out RBI-single to center off of old Cleveland friend Addison Reed, the Indians took an 8-6 lead in the eleventh on a two-run home run from Carlos Santana.

Not to be outdone, the Tribe blew a save of their own, as Bryan Shaw gave up a one-out solo home run and Axford, in relief of him, allowed an RBI-single to tie the game at eight. Axford made it a bit more stressful, loading the bases before a pair of swinging strikeouts.

Aaron Hill would end the madness in the 14th, delivering a one-out walk-off single off of Mark Lowe.

Thursday, July 24th, 2014Kansas City 2, Cleveland 1

Another impressive Kluber start was wasted in most improbable fashion in the eighth inning at Kauffman Stadium. With one out in a scoreless game, Mike Moustakas blooped an opposite field double down the left field line that glanced off of the glove of a sliding Ryan Raburn and rolled against the wall in foul territory. Raburn picked up the ball and threw it…to shallow left-center field?

The spike heard ’round Cleveland allowed Moustakas to keep on running all the way around the bases for a Little League inside-the-parker, giving the Royals a 1-0 lead.

Gomes would tie the game in the top of the ninth off of closer Greg Holland. The game would last 14 innings, when Nori Aoki delivered the one-out, game-winning RBI-single off of Axford.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014Arizona 1, Cleveland 0

In an important season, far too often the ball found its way towards struggling infielders or into the hands of ineffective pitchers.

Such was the case in game two of a doubleheader against Arizona. Zach Walters won the opener with a walk-off home run in the ninth inning. It would take a dozen more innings to declare a victor in the nightcap. With no score in the 12th, C.C. Lee took over on the mound for rookie Kyle Crockett, who struck out three in two hitless innings of relief. Lee committed the cardinal sin of walking the leadoff man. His pinch-runner was sacrificed to second and scored on a single to center by Tuffy Gosewisch.

The Indians would bring the tying run to second base with two outs in the bottom of the 12th against Arizona’s Reed, but Jason Kipnis struck out swinging to end the ball game.

In four of the last five innings, the Indians had the would-be tying, go-ahead, or winning run at second base with two outs and were unable to find the clutch hit needed to drive him home. They hit just .219 as a club in that situation during the season.

Friday, August 22nd, 2014Houston 5, Cleveland 1

The Indians ran themselves out of the bottom of the eighth at Progressive Field in a 1-1 tie, which would prove extremely costly on this night. Mike Aviles singled to lead off the inning and advanced to second base on a sacrifice, but was later picked off second in a rundown. Tyler Holt, who successfully reached on that sacrifice and moved to second when Aviles was caught stealing, was gunned down overaggressively trying to steal third, when his speed would have allowed him to score from second on most base hits.

Francona brought out Allen for the ninth. Houston’s Chris Carter drew a one-out walk on four pitches and Dexter Fowler sent the ball towards first baseman Santana. Santana’s throw to second to nab Carter and potentially start a double play sailed into the outfield, allowing the runner to move to third. With the next man up, Fowler broke for second and catcher Roberto Perez attempted to throw through, but his wild throw allowed the runner from third to score the go-ahead run. Two batters later, Jon Singleton erased all doubt with a three-run home run to the home run porch.

The loss to the 55-74 Astros dropped the Indians seven games back in the division.

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014Detroit 4, Cleveland 2

J.D. Martinez killed Cleveland pitching throughout the season. On this night, he won the Tigers a game by doing so.

Allen was called on again in the ninth to protect a Carlos Carrasco start and a 2-1 lead provided by a two-run homer from Santana. Allen walked Torii Hunter and gave up a single to Miguel Cabrera before retiring beloved former Indians star Victor Martinez. On a 1-0 pitch, the other Martinez sent a long drive deep to center for a game-changing three-run home run. The 4-2 loss dropped Cleveland five and a half games in back of first place Kansas City with less than a month to play.

The Indians would lose three of four in this key series to the Tigers, the only team in the AL Central with whom they had a losing record against (8-11). J.D. hit .328 against Cleveland in 2014 with seven home runs and 20 runs batted in.

Friday, September 19th, 2014Minnesota 5, Cleveland 4

Down the stretch, the Indians had no wiggle room to lose games, especially with a somewhat friendly schedule against teams with losing records and head-to-head matchups against Detroit and Kansas City, both of whom sat above Cleveland in the standings.

After taking three of four in Houston, they moved on to Minnesota after a 13-inning win the night before. With a 4-3 score heading into the bottom of the ninth at Target Field, Allen blew his fourth save of the season. Back-to-back one-out hits put runners on the corners. A grounder to Jose Ramirez was bobbled, costing the team a game-ending double play and instead allowing the tying run to score on the fielder’s choice.

Crockett came on in the bottom of the tenth and earned his first loss of the season. He allowed a pair of leadoff singles before intentionally walking Joe Mauer to load the bases to set up force plays. After getting Kennys Vargas to strike out, he was lifted for Josh Tomlin, who allowed the game-winning single.

The Indians would win the series in the next two ball games, but the damage was done.

Monday, September 22nd, 2014Kansas City 2, Cleveland 0

The proverbial “nail in the coffin” to the Indians’ 2014 season happened last Monday.

After claiming a three-out win over the Royals to complete the suspended game from August 31st, the Indians sent Carrasco to the mound. The resurgent Tribe righty had been dominant back in the rotation, and this night would be no different.

Unfortunately, both his offense and defense failed to have his back, as the team put no runs on the board against lefty Danny Duffy, while miscues in the field, on a liner to first baseman Chris Gimenez, playing just his 32nd Major League game at the position, and on a hard hit ball to shortstop Ramirez, accounted for both of the Royals runs to eliminate the potential of a series sweep at the start of the set while putting more distance in the Wild Card race.

It proved to be too much for the Indians to overcome, even though they remained mathematically eligible until their 160th game of the season.

Dishonorable mentions include:

Being one-hit in consecutive games by Seattle and Los Angeles at the end of June; the Elliot Johnson non-catch in right field in Cleveland, overturned on the transfer rule, against San Diego on April 9th that led directly to a first inning run against Trevor Bauer in a 2-1 loss; Zach McAllister surrendered an early five run lead in a 7-5 loss to Kansas City on July 26th; the seven-run eleventh inning against Detroit by Tomlin and Bryan Price in an 11-4 loss on September 4th; a 3-1 loss to Houston on September 15th with no room to lose games to sub-.500 teams; and go-ahead home runs allowed in the eighth inning by the bullpen on July 21st, July 25th, and July 31st, and in extras on May 5th and July 9th.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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