That long suffering group of sports fans known for supporting the lovable losers to grace uniforms and jerseys for the city of Cleveland has learned the painful art of creative losing.
But on July 19th of the 2015 season, the city’s Indians found a rather unique way to walk away with a win from the cross-state “rival” Cincinnati Reds in an Interleague series with the National League Central club.
The game got off to a weird start right away. Singles from Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley gave the Indians runners on the corners and two outs when a short summer shower delayed the game for 40 minutes. But the day’s starter, Johnny Cueto, sat down David Murphy on four pitches after the delay and the long threat was over.
Cueto, who had been the subject of trade rumors throughout the season but especially with the rapidly approaching July 31st trade deadline on the horizon, lost his grip in the second after quickly getting two outs.
Roberto Perez worked the count full and walked. Carlos Carrasco, Cueto’s counterpart for the day, surprisingly singled to right for his first Major League hit. A walk from Kipnis on four pitches loaded the bases and, after working the count full after falling behind 3-0, Cueto walked Francisco Lindor to score Perez and give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
Carrasco returned to the mound after a groundout by Brantley to end the top half of the second. Like Cueto, he worked two quick outs on just four pitches before Eugenio Suarez homered to left to tie the game at one.
Cueto worked a quiet top of the third and Carrasco evaded trouble after hitting Ivan De Jesus with two outs and giving up a single to Joey Votto. A swinging strikeout of Jay Bruce ended the threat and left the score tied at 1-1. In the fourth, however, Cueto got shaky again.
Michael Bourn led off the inning with a single to center and Perez followed with his second walk of the game, this one coming on four straight pitches. A sacrifice from Carrasco moved both runners up for Kipnis with one out and he walked again, this time with the count full. Lindor popped up for the second out of the inning in foul territory, but Brantley worked a full count walk to give the Indians the lead back. A swinging strikeout of Carlos Santana by Cueto ended the rally, the second time in four innings they left the bags loaded.
With the lead back, Carrasco settled down through the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, striking out three straight batters swinging at one stretch. Cueto’s day ended at 94 pitches through four innings, victimized by his six walks, two more base runners allowed on free passes than hits on the day. He had entered the game with the eighth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.14) in the NL at the time. Despite all of the base runners in those frames, he managed to allow just the two runs.
“Things happen, right? No one likes it. No pitcher is going to like coming back here and sitting for 40 minutes and waiting to get the ball back,” said Cueto following his outing through interpreter Tomas Vera. “Of course we won’t like that. You can’t use that as an excuse. There are no excuses. You have to get out there and [force] yourself and get ready, that’s it.
“I feel outstanding today. But things happen. This is what happened,” he continued. “I don’t think in all my career I’ve walked six batters in one game. It just happened. Things happened. It’s as simple as that.”
It was the sixth time in his career he had walked a half dozen, last done in 2011. He had not walked more than three batters in any one start through this game of the season, yet walked three in an inning twice to the Indians.
In the sixth, the second man out of the Reds bullpen, Ryan Mattheus, walked the leadoff man Perez, his third walk in as many plate appearances on the day. Carrasco reached on an error on a sacrifice attempt and a single from Kipnis loaded the bases again for the Tribe. Lindor flied out to left, but it was not deep enough to score Perez, but he would walk home shortly as new reliever Manny Parra walked Brantley on a 3-2 pitch to make it a 3-1 game. A lineout and a groundout again left the bases loaded for Cleveland, but their lead looked to be enough for Carrasco, who allowed just one run on four hits with six strikeouts on the day.
The Reds chipped into the Indians lead in the eighth. A two-out single by Brandon Phillips and a walk to DeJesus ended the afternoon for Bryan Shaw. Votto singled off of Cody Allen to score Phillips and made it a one-run game again. A flyout by Bruce left the tying run at third.
In the ninth, Allen struck out the first two batters before a double from Suarez and a single from Jason Bourgeois tied the game. With the winning run at second, Allen struck out Skip Schumaker to force extra innings.
Facing flamethrowing reliever Aroldis Chapman for his second inning of relief after he struck out a pair in the top of the ninth, the Indians would load the bases again, around a pair of strikeouts. Singles from Yan Gomes and Lindor, followed by a walk by Brantley, put the game on the line for rookie Giovanny Urshela. On the 27th pitch of the inning for Chapman and with the bases loaded and the count full, Urshela struck out swinging.
Pedro Villarreal took over for Chapman in the eleventh and quickly got into trouble. He struck out Ryan Raburn to lead off the inning, but gave up three straight singles to Mike Aviles, Bourn, and Moss to load the bases. Gomes used his eye instead of his bat on a 3-2 pitch to knock in a run with a walk to give the Indians a 4-3 lead. Kipnis followed with a sacrifice fly to left to score Bourn for a key insurance run. Lindor singled after the sacrifice, but Moss was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second.
“We had some great late game at bats,” said Indians manager Terry Francona after the game. “We scored on four walks and a sacrifice fly. That’s an interesting way to score five runs.”
After an out from lefty Marc Rzepczynski, Zach McAllister relieved and earned his first career save.
In the end, the Indians worked four bases loaded walks off of Reds pitching, including the eventual game winner in the eleventh, to account for four of their five runs on the day. It was the first time that the Indians had scored four runs on walks since June 25th, 1969, against the Boston Red Sox in a 7-3 victory. It was the first time that the Reds had walked in four runs in a game since September 20th, 1970, against the Atlanta Braves in an 11-2 loss.
In addition to the four bags-loaded walks, the Indians left the ducks on the Ohio River four other times in the game. The club stranded 18 men on base. Six of the walks were issued to the top three hitters in the lineup, with three more coming the way of eight-hitter Perez and once through Gomes, who pinch-hit for Shaw in the ninth spot and took over for Perez behind the plate.
It would not be Cueto’s last start as a Red, but it would be his last bad one. He worked eight shutout innings of four-hit ball six days later against the Colorado Rockies and was traded the next day to the Kansas City Royals.
Photo: David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports