A mammoth first inning slammed the Texas Rangers past the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night, 7-0.
Cleveland’s confusing and frustrating road trip continued with their fifth game with one run scored or less in their last six contests. The Indians (73-55) were shut out for the second time in three days and have showed little fire at the plate over the last week with the exception of a 12-run explosion on Friday night.
All it took was a disastrous first inning to blow the game wide open, paving the way for a stress-free start from Texas right-hander A.J. Griffin.
The Rangers stepped in against Carlos Carrasco in the bottom of the first and were aided by a couple of bizarre plays and one big swing. Ian Desmond singled to center with one out before Carlos Beltran bunted against the shift to break a 0-for-32 slump at the plate, a career-worst for the 19-year man. Both runners moved up as Carrasco balked on a desired pickoff attempt he could not make with first baseman Carlos Santana well off of first base.
Now with two in scoring position, Adrian Beltre grounded sharply to Jose Ramirez at third. Instead of going to first for a sure out, he looked back Desmond, who froze briefly. The two engaged in a race back to third, with Desmond reaching safely past Ramirez’s diving attempt to tag him. The play loaded the bases for Rougned Odor, who grounded to first. Santana could not field the ball and it glanced off of his shoulder towards second base for a fielder’s choice and an error. Carrasco settled in to quickly strike out Carlos Gomez on three pitches to finally get the second out after two previous misses, but the very next pitch to Mitch Moreland exited stage right for a grand slam to make it 5-0.
Griffin (6-3, 4.39 ERA) returned to the mound with a significant cushion to pitch with and looked at ease. He lasted six innings, never throwing a perfect inning, but also never allowing the ball to leave the yard, something that had been of great difficulty for him all season long. Just two runners reached third base and three made it into scoring position on the night off of him, despite the Indians getting a runner on base safely in all nine innings.
He allowed five hits and a walk on the night, striking out six and hitting one batter while throwing 95 pitches.
Francisco Lindor was stranded at third in the first after a two-out triple. Ramirez led off the second with a single and moved to second when Tyler Naquin was struck by a pitch with two outs. Santana walked but was caught stealing on a strikeout by Jason Kipnis in the third.
Ramirez singled for a second straight at bat with one out in the fourth but moved no further. Roberto Perez singled with one out in the fifth, but remained at first. Ramirez got his third hit of the game off of Griffin with the Indians’ second two-out triple of the game, but Lonnie Chisenhall struck out after him.
Abraham Almonte singled off of reliever Tony Barnette to start the seventh, but two strikeouts and a groundout kept him stranded at first. The eighth looked nearly identical as Kipnis led things off with a single but back-to-back strikeouts and a lineout were registered by Jake Diekman. Almonte reached off of Matt Bush with one out in the ninth on an error by Beltre.
All of the wasted opportunities added up to nine men left on base, but the Indians had just three at bats with runners in scoring position despite men occupying the bases all night long.
The Rangers added two more in the third after Odor doubled with one out, Moreland was intentionally walked with two outs, and Elvis Andrus punished the Indians against with a two-run double to left to make it a 7-0 game.
Several long innings sent Carrasco to the showers after four innings. He threw 93 pitches and was severely limited by the defensive blunders and his balk in the first. He was charged with seven runs (just three earned) on eight hits and a walk in four full innings. Despite the low inning total, he still struck out eight.
Jeff Manship allowed two hits in an inning of relief. Dan Otero struck out one in a perfect sixth. Andrew Miller once again struck out the side in a stellar seventh. Catcher Chris Gimenez threw a ten-pitch bottom of the eighth inning to spare the Cleveland bullpen in his second relief appearance of the season for the Indians and the third outing of his career.
Cleveland’s lead in the American League Central remained at four and a half games as Detroit lost to Los Angeles.
The Rangers (76-54) lead the Indians by two full games in the American League with one final regular season matchup scheduled on Sunday.
Right-hander Danny Salazar (11-5, 3.90) will look to get himself back on track after several bad starts before and a stay on the disabled list. Texas will send out left-hander Derek Holland (5-6, 4.92), who has put up good numbers against the Indians all throughout his career. It will be the second start for the veteran southpaw after returning from the 60-day disabled list earlier last week.
First pitch is scheduled for 3:35 PM ET.
Photo: Brandon Wade/Getty Images