The Oakland Athletics have turned into quite a thorn in the side of the Cleveland Indians. For the fifth time this season, a game between the two clubs was decided by two runs or less, with the A’s victorious for the fourth of those contests with a 5-3 win on Tuesday night from Progressive Field.
The Indians kept the game close in the early innings, but could not prevent the A’s from reaching base as Trevor Bauer struggled with command for the second straight outing. A first inning lead for the Tribe quickly disappeared as the A’s scored runs in the second, third, and fourth, and despite the Indians responding with solo runs of their own in the bottom halves of the third and fourth frames, they could not catch up to a pesky Athletics club.
Cleveland took an early lead against Ohio native and right-hander Chris Bassitt. After an uneventful first by Bauer, Francisco Lindor drove a 2-1 sinker down in the zone over the wall in right for another leadoff home run. The 14th such blast of his career gave the Indians the early lead, but the team could not tack on more despite three straight one-out walks from Carlos Santana, Carlos Gonzalez, and Jose Ramirez, as Jake Bauers struck out swinging and Roberto Perez grounded out to short.
Bauer was unable to protect that lead as he lost the strike zone in the second. He retired Khris Davis easily two pitches into the inning with a weak grounder to short before Davis exited the game, clearly still affected by a lingering hip issue. Bauer lost things from there, putting on Stephen Piscotty with a free pass before hitting Jurickson Profar in the right foot. Robbie Grossman flied to left for the second out, but Ramon Laureano walked in an eight-pitch at bat to load the bases and Bauer missed on the next four to Josh Phegley to force in the tying run. Marcus Semien replicated Perez’s at bat to end the bottom of the first, leaving the bases loaded on a fielder’s choice force at second on his grounder to short.
Bassitt retired the side in order in the second before he got a big jolt of support in the third. The dangerous Matt Chapman lined to right for the first out before Matt Olson singled to center. Mark Canha, coming off of the bench for the DH Davis, caught a four-seamer up and drove it the opposite way for a costly two-run home run to put the A’s up, 3-1.
The Indians kept fighting back, getting back on the scoreboard again in the bottom of the inning to keep things close. After a strikeout by Jason Kipnis, Santana jumped on the first pitch he saw and sent a no-doubter to the seats in front of the bullpen to make it a 3-2 game.
Bauer was nearly out of the fourth when the A’s added on again. After fly outs by Laureano and Phegley, Semien doubled to left-center. Chapman did the same with the next pitch, doubling to left to score Semien to make it 4-2.
The Indians once again responded in their half of the inning to keep it a one-run game. With one out, Leonys Martin fouled off six pitches in an eleven-pitch at bat before finally drawing a walk. Two pitches later, Oscar Mercado got into the hit column with a double to center, plating Martin to cut the deficit to 4-3. With a big run still at second and only one out, Lindor struck out swinging before Kipnis walked. Bassitt was hooked by manager Bob Melvin, and his replacement, Liam Hendriks, struck out Santana swinging to end the rally.
Bauer got better as the game went on, but the early issues cost him. He gave the Indians six, issuing a walk with a strikeout in the fifth while striking out three in the sixth around a one-out hit by pitch by Phegley to save the bullpen some. Adam Cimber relieved for the seventh and worked a perfect inning, but Profar led off the eighth with his second homer in as many days against the Indians to pad the A’s lead with a big insurance run. Nick Wittgren stranded a runner at second, retiring both batters that he faced in relief that inning, while retiring the side in order in the ninth.
Hendriks contained the Indians over three different innings of relief. He allowed a two-out opposite field bloop to Bauers in the fifth, but left him at first. He retired the first two in the sixth before left-hander Ryan Buchter got a groundout from Lindor. He was lifted with one out in the seventh after walking Santana, but Joakim Soria was rewarded with the pitcher’s best friend as he got pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow to ground into an inning-ending double play. Soria retired the side in the eighth in order and Blake Treinen earned his ninth save of the season with an easy ninth, getting Martin to fly to center before striking out both Mercado and Lindor swinging on a heavy diet of sliders.
The A’s moved a game away from even at 24-25 and improved to 4-1 on the year against the Indians. The host club fell to 25-22 and just 14-10 at home on the year.
Bauer settled down to give the Indians six needed innings after his early pitch count looked to spell doom. He threw a season-high 123 pitches (73 strikes), allowing four runs on four hits with four walks and five strikeouts. He worked frequently up in the zone with offspeed stuff, but the A’s showed patience and were able to foul off 25 different pitches on the night.
“Overall, I thought my stuff was really good tonight,” Bauer said. “Gave up four hits. Curveball on the black goes for a bloop hit and then five pitches later a fastball at the letters goes for a homer. I think that’s just kinda the way things are going for me right now.”
Bassitt lasted just three and two-thirds innings while dealing with what may have been a blister on his finger. The Toledo native and University of Akron product allowed three runs on three hits with six walks and six strikeouts, throwing 88 pitches to the 20 batters that he faced. The bullpen behind him worked five and one-third scoreless innings of one-hit baseball, walking one and striking out three.
The Indians will look to avoid the sweep in the season finale with the Athletics on Wednesday afternoon in a getaway day start. Jefry Rodriguez (1-3, 3.45 ERA) will get the start for Cleveland and will look for his second win against Oakland this year. Right-hander Frankie Montas (5-2, 2.67) will take the ball for the A’s, looking to set a new career high for wins with a victory.
First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 PM ET.
Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images