When a player stumbles some in his Major League debut, it is easy to make some excuses for him. Nerves, playing in front of much larger crowds than minor league parks, and the culmination of years and years of hard work coming to an overwhelming conclusion are enough to knock a guy off of his game.
It didn’t faze Cleveland Indians starter Cody Anderson on June 21st, 2015, even if the path to the show had not been without its notable hurdles for him.
At one point, Anderson was named the top minor league pitcher in the Indians organization after going 9-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 26 starts in 2013 between High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron. The following season, however, was a reality check for the young right-hander. He struggled throughout the season at Akron and ended the year with a disappointing 4-11 record and 5.44 ERA in 25 starts. His strikeouts were down, his walks were up, his home run rate increased substantially, and batters were finding it much easier to reach base.
The poor results left him with the RubberDucks to start the 2015 season after focusing to improve his physical makeup in the offseason. After ten starts and a 3-2 record to pair with a 1.73 ERA, he was promoted to Columbus. His stay there was unexpectedly short, lasting just three games, before a surprise promotion to the Indians roster to attempt to shut what had been a revolving door that was the fifth starter in the rotation, after failed efforts from Zach McAllister, Shaun Marcum, T.J. House, and Bruce Chen.
Anderson had the task in his debut effort of taking on the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field, a club who had already taken two straight from the Tribe on their home field by identical 4-1 decisions.
Anderson’s opposition on the day was Rays righty Alex Colome, a 26-year-old with minimal experience in his third season at the Major League level. He was making just his eleventh appearance of the season and had mixed results at best, entering with a 3-3 record and a 5.14 ERA while coming off of a two-inning, six-run interleague loss to the Washington Nationals.
Few could have predicted a pitchers’ duel on the horizon that afternoon.
Both pitchers threw up zeroes on the scoreboard. While the Rays were limited to zero runs by Anderson, Colome was no-hitting the Tribe deep into the afternoon. The Indians finally struck through against Colome in the bottom of the sixth when Michael Bourn’s infield single was the game’s first hit for Cleveland. He would get to second on a wild pitch, but would move no further.
Anderson pitched with runners on for most of the game, but minimized his mistakes and kept the Rays off of the board. He walked Joey Butler in the first and stranded him at second after a stolen base. A second inning leadoff single was erased on a fielder’s choice and a double play that followed. A two-out single in the fourth by David DeJesus proved to be no harm. Former Indian Asdrubal Cabrera was stranded at second after his single was followed by a groundout and a strikeout.
He faced his biggest obstacle of his young career in the seventh after striking out DeJesus to start the frame. Logan Forsythe and Steven Souza Jr. singled in back-to-back plate appearances. A line out by Cabrera moved the potential go-ahead run to third, but a fielder’s choice grounder to second ended the threat with no damage done.
While Colome’s perfect game ended at five and one-third innings, the Indians still struggled to do anything against him. They wasted a one-out David Murphy walk on a double play grounder by Carlos Santana, which ended both the inning and the afternoon for Colome. He threw seven innings of one-hit ball and walked a pair on the day while striking out four.
The Indians bullpen stepped up in the eighth and ninth. Anderson’s debut ended with two outs and a runner on second after a double in the eighth. Reliever Marc Rzepczynski struck out pinch-hitter Nick Franklin to escape trouble. In the ninth, Cody Allen allowed a leadoff single to Forsythe, who moved to third on a pair of groundouts before the Tribe closer sat down Jake Elmore swinging.
The third pitcher of the day, Kevin Jepsen, took the mound for the Rays in the bottom of the ninth in a scoreless game. Roberto Perez led off the inning with just the Indians’ second hit of the game. He moved all the way to third on a single to right by Kipnis, who moved up on indifference. After a lineout by Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley was intentionally walked to load the bases for force plays versus Murphy. After working himself ahead in the count, 3-1, Murphy lifted a fly into the outfield. Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier’s throw to the plate beat Perez by a hair, but the sliding Perez scored safely as Tampa catcher Curt Casali could not corral the throw.
“It seemed like his legs got shorter as he was running,” manager Terry Francona said following the win. “That play was hold-your-breath time, for sure.”
“I wasn’t looking at the ball,” said Perez. “I think it beat me, but then he dropped it, so I was okay.”
While Anderson did not get the win, he did become the fourth Indians pitcher since 1914 to register at least seven and two-thirds innings of scoreless baseball in his MLB debut. He was the first to do it in Cleveland.
“I really didn’t have much control in the first inning,” said Anderson. “I couldn’t feel my body or the ball.”
The game marked one of the longest outings of Anderson’s entire professional career.
“It was a special day. I’m honored to be here and help the team win,” he said. “Any time you’re in a big stadium for the first time, the adrenaline takes over and you don’t get as fatigued.”
For the Indians, it marked a dreadful three-game stretch scoring a solo run in each game. They did, at least, escape the sweep with their first walk-off winner of the year. Allen was rewarded with a win after his scoreless ninth. It also ended the significant streak of 67 games by the Indians without a walk-off, a staple for the franchise since moving into the gem at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in 1994.
It would not be the last time Anderson would have a special game in his rookie campaign as he more than adequately plugged a hole desperately needing filled in the Tribe’s 2015 rotation.
Photos: Jason Miller/Getty Images