Tribe Bullpen Blows Lead in Five-Run Ninth; Braves 8, Indians 7
Bob Toth | On 21, Apr 2019
The Cleveland bullpen coughed up a four-run lead in a five-run Atlanta ninth as the Indians fell to the Braves, 8-7, in game two of Saturday’s doubleheader from Progressive Field.
After taking the first game of the series earlier in the day, the Indians jumped out to a big lead in the first two innings, but the Braves kept their hopes alive by chipping away for several runs in the middle innings before using an improbable ninth inning, aided by an absolute meltdown from the Indians bullpen, to rally back with five runs in the final frame to steal away a victory from the Tribe.
The Braves moved to 10-10 with the victory and ended their four-game losing streak, while the Indians fell to 12-8 with their second home loss of the season. Cleveland’s four-game winning streak also came to an end in the embarrassing end results.
The Indians ran up the score early on young Braves starter Touki Toussaint, tagging him for seven runs over the first two innings to take what should have been a safe 7-0 lead. It was the first start to the season for the 22-year-old, who had worked six innings in relief in a win last weekend.
The Indians used another two-out rally to generate their runs in the first. Leonys Martin was hit by a pitch with one out and moved to third on a single to center by Jose Ramirez. Carlos Santana struck out, but with Carlos Gonzalez in the batter’s box, Toussaint threw a wild pitch to score Martin. Gonzalez continued the scoring with an RBI-single to right on a 3-2 pitch to score Ramirez.
Cleveland’s second inning should have been a back-breaking moment in the contest. Mike Freeman and Francisco Lindor each singled with one out before Martin was hit by a pitch again to load the bases. Ramirez drove two in with a single to center and Santana added another with a single to right to make it a 5-0 game. Gonzalez was plunked by the third miscue from Toussaint, who got the hook for Shane Carle. He lost an eight-pitch battle with Jake Bauers, who doubled to the gap in right-center to plate two more. Tyler Naquin was intentionally walked to reload the bases before an inning-ending double play ball from Roberto Perez ended the rally.
Lindor’s single in the second to help start the rally was his first hit of the season after striking out in his first at bat of the game. He went 1-for-5 and scored a run.
“It felt good to be out there with the team,” Lindor said after the game. “Felt good to listen to the crowd. It was a tough game, but I was happy to be a part of it.”
On the pitching front, just one of seven pitchers to take the mound for Cleveland did his job and it was no surprise that it was the starter, Trevor Bauer, who was robbed of another victory in a quality start. He worked six and one-third innings, overcoming a high pitch count early, and allowed two runs on three hits with two walks and ten strikeouts. He threw a season-high 120 pitches on the day, a number that was bloated by the 30 foul balls hit by the Braves lineup. He left with a 7-1 lead, but the final batter that he faced, Josh Donaldson, came in to score after being inherited by Dan Otero.
Bauer was vocal after the game about Atlanta’s approach at the plate, which led to an elevated pitch count from the 28-year-old hurler.
“It didn’t seem like they wanted to hit tonight,” he shared. “It seemed like they were looking to take pitches and foul pitches off. I guess it worked out for them…They made me throw a lot of pitches and they got me out of the game in the seventh instead of having me go eight or nine, so I guess, good job.”
The Braves bullpen shut down the Indians after their big start over the first two innings, firing off seven and two-thirds scoreless innings. Carle allowed a two-run double to the first batter that he faced, but those would be the only runs to come against the Braves bullpen and both were charged to Toussaint.
It seemed like a small blemish at the time in the seventh, when Bauer walked Nick Markakis to end his outing. The Braves had just one run at the time courtesy of a two-out RBI triple by Tyler Flowers (his first since 2014) to score Markakis after his leadoff double in the fifth, but they added more in the seventh as Otero entered in relief. He got Johan Camargo to ground into a force out at second, but on his third pitch to Dansby Swanson, the Braves’ leading RBI man added two more to his season total with a deep fly to center to cut the lead to 7-3.
The Indians bullpen showed little ability to throw strikes and it cost the club a win. The Braves hung in to the very last out and were able to put up five two-out runs to take their first lead in the final frame.
Oliver Perez started the ninth after retiring the last two outs in the eighth. He faced Markakis, who reached base for the third time on the night with a single to right. Manager Terry Francona went to his bullpen for submariner Adam Cimber, and the right-hander rewarded him momentarily with a one-pitch line out to right from Camargo. After throwing a strike to Swanson, Cimber missed on four straight to put a second runner on, and followed by walking Flowers on five pitches to load the bases. The tying run stepped to the plate in Ender Inciarte, who struck out on four pitches for the second out.
Leadoff man Ozzie Albies grabbed a bat as the Braves’ last hope and he delivered in a big way, slapping a single just inside the right field line to score a pair, making it a 7-5 ball game. Cimber got ahead of Donaldson on a first pitch sinker, but he missed again on four straight pitches to load the bases again. Francona went back to the mound and called on left-hander Tyler Olson, who dug himself a 3-0 hole against left-handed hitting Freddie Freeman before throwing a pair of fastballs over. On the payoff pitch, Olson missed again, walking in a run to make it 7-6.
Francona returned to the mound for his fourth different pitcher of the inning, Cody Anderson, who had been curiously stashed in the Cleveland bullpen after making just one short start in Columbus and one relief appearance with the Indians in his first outings of 2019 after a long (nearly two year) recovery from Tommy John surgery. He missed to Ronald Acuna Jr. at the top of the zone for a ball, but Anderson’s straight four-seamer was scorched to the wall in left to drive in Albies and Donaldson with the tying and go-ahead runs. Markakis walked before the eleventh batter of the inning, Camargo, flew out, but the damage was done in a full-on implosion from Progressive Field.
The four relievers combined to throw 45 pitches in the disastrous frame, with just 19 crossing for strikes. Perez was the only one of the four to throw more strikes than balls in his outing, with Cimber missing on 13 of 21, Olson missing on four of six, and Anderson missing on seven of 12. The four combined to work an inning, allowing five runs (all earned) on three hits with five walks and one strikeout.
A.J. Minter struck out the side in the ninth, getting Bauers looking and both Naquin and Perez swinging.
“You’ve got to play all nine innings,” said Minter after the game. “These hitters, they don’t stop. When we went ahead, I just felt like the game was over with. I really did.”
With the all-time series between two clubs now tied 7-7, the Indians and Braves will look for bragging rights in a Sunday Night Baseball broadcast on ESPN.
The Indians will send second-year right-hander Shane Bieber (2-0, 1.71 ERA) to the mound in his second home start of the season. He has won back-to-back decisions and fired off three straight quality starts to open his season after initially appearing out of the bullpen. The Braves will call on 25-year-old left-hander Max Fried (2-0, 0.92 ERA), who will make his sixth appearance and fourth start of the season. Since moving to the rotation, he has made three straight quality starts for Atlanta, including his last outing when he allowed a season-high two earned runs on seven hits in six innings in a no-decision.
Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images