The Baltimore Orioles feasted on Cleveland Indians pitching on Friday and Saturday, but they had no answer for a masterful Shane Bieber on Sunday as the Tribe right-hander fired eight shutout innings and Brad Hand worked some ninth inning magic to secure a 2-0 shutout to avoid a series sweep.
The Tribe’s start to a three-city road trip to close out the first half had gone about as bad as it possibly could. Poor starting pitching, equally inefficient relief efforts, and an absent offense contributed to back-to-back 13-0 shutouts for the Orioles. Bieber changed course on those results, shouldering the load for eight solid innings while using the minimal run support produced by the offense to carry the team to a much needed victory.
The Indians’ offensive woes continued in the first two innings of the day against right-hander Gabriel Ynoa, extending the Tribe’s futility to 20 innings of scoreless performances. Francisco Lindor started the game with a leadoff double to right and moved to third on a grounder by Oscar Mercado, but Carlos Santana grounded to first before Jason Kipnis lined out deep to Anthony Santander in left. Jake Bauers singled to right-center with one down in the second, but Ynoa struck out both Roberto Perez and Bobby Bradley.
Bieber faced the minimum in the first two frames. Dwight Smith Jr. singled in the first, but as his teammate Zach Plesac did to Jonathan Villar in the first inning on Saturday, Bieber picked off Smith Jr.
The Indians finally found the runs column in the third, doing so with back-to-back two-out hits. Mercado doubled to center and Santana delivered with an RBI-single to right to give Cleveland its first run of the series. Kipnis kept the inning going with a third straight two-out hit, a single to center that put runners on the corners. He stole second, but Jose Ramirez could not come through as he grounded out to second to end the inning.
Bieber retired the side in order again in the third and the Indians missed out with an early base runner in the fourth as Bauers started the inning with his second single in as many at bats. Perez moved him to second with a grounder to third, but Bradley flied to left and Tyler Naquin popped out to third.
Bieber set down the Orioles in order again in the fourth but got a little scare in the fifth. After striking out Chance Sisco and Santander to open the inning, Rio Ruiz doubled to the base of the wall in left as Bauers came up limping after tracking the ball down. With a runner in scoring position for the first time, the Orioles left Ruiz there as Hanser Alberto grounded to Lindor at short.
The Indians threatened again in the sixth to knock Ynoa out of the game. After Kipnis struck out to open the inning, Ramirez drew a five-pitch walk. Paul Fry was summoned from the Baltimore bullpen and Cleveland skipper Terry Francona went to his bench for pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow, who drew a walk. With two on and one out, Perez and Bradley both struck out swinging on six total pitches to squander a big scoring chance.
Bieber allowed his third hit of the day, a one-out single by Stevie Wilkerson, but he struck out the next two swinging to handle his business.
The Indians struck through for a needed insurance run in the seventh after Fry retired Naquin on a grounder. Former Cleveland reliever Shawn Armstrong entered as the third pitcher of the day and got Lindor to pop to third for the second out, but taking a page out of the third inning scoring summary, Mercado doubled and scored on a single by Santana to make it a 2-0 game.
Bieber struck out his tenth and eleventh batters of the game to start the seventh before a grounder to third by Santander. He came back out for the eighth and kept it a two-run game, getting Ruiz to pop to third before back-to-back grounders by Alberto and Chris Davis to end his outing.
Things got a little tense in the ninth as the closer Hand made his return to the mound for the first time since a disastrous five-run ninth inning on Tuesday against Kansas City. He struck out pinch-hitter Pedro Severino looking to start the inning, but Villar singled to right. Renato Nunez grabbed a bat for Smith Jr. and struck out swinging for the second out. Trey Mancini kept the O’s hopes alive with a single to left to put the tying runs on base. Sisco worked a walk to load the bases, but Hand avoided another late inning grand slam by striking out Santander on a deep back foot slider to give the Tribe its 45th win of the year.
Hand’s tightrope act in the ninth earned him his 23rd save in 24 chances.
Bieber continued to avoid any sort of sophomore slumps on the mound with a dominating eight innings of work against the Orioles. He reached double-digits again in strikeouts for the fourth time this season and pitched into the eighth inning or later for the fifth time this year, including the third time in June. He worked ahead and kept the Orioles hacking away, getting 20 swinging strikes out of 72 thrown. His 112 pitches thrown on the day were the second-most he has made in a start this season (114 on May 3 against Seattle).
Bieber is now 2-0 against Baltimore this season with 26 strikeouts and no walks with eight hits allowed in 17 innings of work.
Ynoa took a tough loss, his sixth of the year, after giving the Orioles five and one-third innings of one-run baseball. He gave up six hits and a walk while striking out three before turning the game over to the bullpen.
The Orioles were limited to just two at bats with runners in scoring position, with both coming against Hand in the ninth. They stranded five on the day on their five-hit day.
The Indians offense was active, even if the final score did not indicate it. The lineup strung together ten hits, including two-hit days from Santana and Bauers and a three-hit day by Mercado (including two doubles and both of the team’s runs scored). Santana got both of the club’s hits with runners in scoring position on a 2-for-10 day for the team and the Tribe All-Star now has 50 RBI on the year. Cleveland left ten men on base in the two-run final.
Prior to the game, the Indians activated Ramirez from the paternity list and optioned Yu Chang back to Triple-A Columbus.
The Indians will take a day off on Monday for travel while Major League Baseball has just six games on the schedule (including Baltimore’s matchup in Tampa against the Rays). Cleveland will open a divisional three-game set in Kansas City against the Royals on Tuesday night in an 8:15 PM ET start from Kauffman Stadium. Trevor Bauer (6-6, 3.55 ERA) and Jakob Junis (4-7, 5.23) will rematch their outing from last Wednesday in the series opener. Bauer struck out 12 and allowed one run in six and two-thirds for the win in that matchup his last time out, while Junis allowed four runs on nine hits in six innings for the loss.
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