Carlos Santana drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth and his teammates tacked on two more big ones as the Cleveland Indians made it eleven straight wins with a 5-3 victory over the Braves in Atlanta on Tuesday night.
The Indians (46-30) have now matched the winning streak of the 1982 club, who won eleven straight in May and June of that season. Their fifth win to start their road trip guaranteed that they return home on the Fourth of July with at least a 5-5 split on their current ten-game voyage around the country.
After the Braves rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth, things remained the same until the ninth when the Indians took matters into their own hands (with their bats).
Reliever Arodys Vizcaino took over for Jim Johnson and promptly walked Tyler Naquin on five pitches to start the ninth. Juan Uribe followed with a four-pitch free pass and was lifted for pinch-runner Rajai Davis. Corey Kluber, having just completed his eighth inning, was replaced by pinch-hitter Michael Martinez, who struck out looking, but Santana delivered in the clutch with a 3-1 single to right to score a sliding Naquin with the go-ahead run. After Jason Kipnis fouled out and Santana moved up on a wild pitch to put two in scoring position, Francisco Lindor reached on an error at short by Erick Aybar, who could not field a tough grounder in the hole. Davis scored on the play to make it 4-2. Jose Ramirez, batting cleanup in the ball game, lined a single to center to drive in the third run of the frame and give Cleveland a solid 5-2 lead.
“I don’t try to do too much,” said Ramirez through a translator after the game. “I just try to keep on doing whatever I’ve been doing.”
The game was not over and the Braves and Indians reliever Cody Allen made it a bit of a nailbiter in the bottom of the ninth. After a strikeout to start the frame, Jace Peterson homered to center. Allen got Ender Inciarte to ground out to first for the second out on a play that withstood a replay review. The dangerous Freddie Freeman socked a deep drive to left center that was misplayed by Naquin into a triple to bring the tying run to the plate in Nick Markakis, but he lifted a soft fly to left to end it, with the Tribe taking home the 5-3 win.
Kluber got the win to improve to 8-7 with a strong eight innings of three-hit ball on the night. Vizcaino took his third loss of the year and was charged with three runs, just one of which was earned after the Aybar error. Allen secured his 15th save in 17 tries this season.
The Indians jumped out in the first inning, giving Kluber two early runs to work with off of northwest Ohioan Matt Wisler. They used three straight singles from Kipnis, Lindor, and Ramirez to take a 1-0 lead. With Lonnie Chisenhall at the plate, Lindor stole home on the back end of a delayed double steal, with Ramirez swiping second off of Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski to make it a 2-0 game.
Atlanta had no answers for Kluber through the first five innings. The Tribe starter faced the minimum, erasing a one-out first inning walk on a double play. Things changed in the sixth, when the Braves finally made Kluber work.
Aybar reached on a single to short that was a tough play for Lindor, as good as he has been all season. His throw pulled Santana off the bag at first and he was credited with an infield single for the Braves’ first hit of the night. Emilio Bonifacio got a far more legitimate single to center two pitches later before Wisler sacrificed both runners up 90 feet. Kluber struck out Peterson looking for the second out, but ran into a tough at bat against Inciarte, who fouled off six straight pitches and took a ball before dropping a single into center. Both Aybar and Bonifacio scored, but Inciarte was caught between first and second and was tagged out after a brief run down. The damage, however, was done as the game was tied at two.
Wisler held the Indians in check after their first inning scores and got better as the game progressed. He retired nine in a row at one stretch before a two-out single from Uribe in the sixth. He handed the game over to his bullpen in the seventh with no chance to lose it, but no chance to earn a win against the team he rooted for from Bryan, Ohio.
The loss for Atlanta (26-51) dropped the Braves to just 11-31 at Turner Field in the final season at the young ball park. The Indians, meanwhile, have now won as many games on the road (23) as they have won at home this season. They have won 20 games already in June with two more to play.
“We’re getting good results,” continued Ramirez through the translator. “I feel good because we’re doing great this year. We’re playing good baseball. We’re having a good time in the clubhouse, a good time in the dugout. We’re playing good ball because we’re united.”
RESTED KLUBER GIVES A QUALITY EFFORT
Kluber (8-7, 3.50 ERA) was in control throughout the night, limiting the Braves to just three hits and a walk over eight innings. He struck out seven and looked sharp after getting a couple of extra days of rest following Thursday’s off day and an adjustment in the schedule that swapped his spot with Monday night’s starter, Trevor Bauer.
WISLER SETS NEW BEST
Wisler did his part to minimize the damage in the first and to contain the Indians’ offense over six innings, something that few teams have been able to do of late. His nine strikeouts on the night were a new career-high for the 23-year-old right-hander.
The Braves are now just 5-11 in games that he starts, while he remained at 3-7 for the season with a 4.14 ERA.
With their eleventh straight win, the Indians’ streak has matched that of their 1982 club, who won eleven from May 23 to June 4.
That team, who finished 78-84 under Dave Garcia’s leadership, was a much different squad than the current Indians roster. Prior to their eleven wins in a row, they had dropped eight of nine, with their sole win a 6-5 walk-off victory over Toronto. When the winning streak came to an end, they proceeded to drop seven of eight, including a stretch of six straight, effectively erasing all of the good their hot streak did.
Over the course of that streak, they improved from 15-23 and eleven games out of the AL East lead to 26-23 and five games out. After their seven losses in the next eight games, they were back to three games under the .500 mark and ten games out of the race.
RUN THIS WAY
The Indians exploited the Braves poor theft prevention measures throughout the game, as they stole four bases off of the veteran catcher Pierzynski.
Lindor’s steal of home was good for the second run of the night, while Ramirez reached double digits with a pair of thefts. Chisenhall also stole his fourth with extreme ease.
HALF DOZEN NO MORE
With just five runs scored on Tuesday night, the Indians’ streak of seven straight games with at least a half dozen runs scored came to an end. They entered the game averaging 6.8 runs during their current winning streak.
SAME OLD STORY
Cleveland scored first. They won.
The Indians have won 20 times in their last 21 games when scoring the game’s first run and improved to 34-7 in that situation this season.
Reserve outfielder Jeff Francoeur was ejected in the ninth inning and dropped a very clear and unfriendly four-letter F word on the home plate umpire after the review of Inciarte’s grounder to Santana did not go in the Braves’ favor.
Jerry Layne, the home plate umpire who exited after taking a direct hit to the jaw from a Markakis foul tip in the eighth inning on Monday, was not part of the umpiring crew for Tuesday’s game. His status for Wednesday’s finale is not yet known.
GANT TO THE SHELF
Atlanta’s starter on Monday night, John Gant, has landed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain. Braves interim manager Brian Snitker shared prior to the game, regarding the injury, that “it’s going to be a while.”
Right-hander Danny Salazar (9-3, 2.40) will look to complete the Indians’ fourth straight sweep in Wednesday night’s game in his second career start in Atlanta. The Braves had not formally announced a starter for the game, but it was believed that they would be calling up right-hander Joel De La Cruz from Triple-A Gwinnett to make the spot start in what would be his Major League debut.
No pressure, kid. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET from Turner Field in the Indians’ final game from a ball park younger than Progressive Field.
Photo: AP Photo/John Bazemore