Belief in Bauers Led to Tribe’s Ninth Cycle
Bob Toth | On 12, Jun 2020
Cycles are one of those fun and silly accomplishments in a baseball game where players notch a single, double, triple, and home run over the course of game action. It may not be on the same level of other in-game accolades, like throwing a no-hitter, and yet it remains a rare occurrence in general.
The Cleveland Indians have tallied nine in their 119 years of play, fewer than the number of no-hitters (14) or triple plays turned (33) by the team. It puts the feat squarely on the list of the more unique events that an individual player can pull off over the course of a ball game, although it happens at a more common rate around Major League Baseball than it has for the Tribe.
In 2019, the Indians ended a drought of nearly three years between cycles (the shortest gap between them in the history of the franchise) when an unlikely player participated in the four-hit fun as the Indians routed the Detroit Tigers, 13-4, at Comerica Park.
Jake Bauers’ name had come up quite a few times in his first season with the Indians in 2019. Mixed production despite seeing his name penciled in on the lineup card nightly had left some wondering how long the leash was going to be on the young hitter until the team needed to look in another direction for more immediate offensive help with the team having a difficult time winning games and keeping the gap close between themselves and the first place and upstart Minnesota Twins. He took advantage of the playing time on Friday, June 14, 2019, and temporarily quieted talks of a possible demotion to Triple-A Columbus with the best single-game performance of his brief big league career.
A second-year first baseman and left fielder, Bauers came up the previous June with the Tampa Bay Rays, performing well early on in the season before cooling off in the second half. The highlight of his year may have been a four-hit game in his 18th game, when he tallied three singles and a double in an 11-0 shutout against the Washington Nationals. He added four-RBI games in July and September.
In the offseason, he was traded to Cleveland as part of a three-team deal in December that brought Carlos Santana back to the Indians from the Mariners. Cleveland sent Edwin Encarnacion and a competitive balance pick to Seattle and both Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser to Tampa to complete the trade.
Bauers broke camp with the Indians in 2019 as the team’s regular left fielder, but there was some sophomoric slumping in his game as he struggled in the opening month despite a regular look in manager Terry Francona’s lineup. Halfway through April, he was stuck below the Mendoza line, but a nice surge at the end of the month (six-game hitting streak with hits in eight of nine and 11 of 13) pushed his season slash to .241/.323/.379.
May proved to be a bigger hurdle for Bauers as he started to see more time at first base and designated hitter. In 28 games, he hit .194 with a .292 on-base percentage and a .301 slugging mark. He recorded a hit in just 12 of those games played, but half of that production included multi-hit efforts.
Bauers remained in the lineup, despite the mixed results, as the team stuck by its young left-handed hitter. But June opened similarly to his previous calendar months as he had single hits (including two solo homers) in five of his nine games through series with the White Sox, Twins, Yankees, and Reds. The .161 stint at the plate brought his season slash down to .209/.294/.346.
With their three-team homestand completed against Minnesota, New York, and Cincinnati, the Indians packed their bags for their second trip of the season to Detroit to start a weeklong road trip with the Tigers and Texas Rangers.
Facing fellow left-hander and second-year player Ryan Carpenter, the DH Bauers got to work after a scoreless first from both sides. Jason Kipnis walked and moved to second on a single by Roberto Perez to bring up the Tribe’s eight-hitter. Behind in the count 1-2, he blooped in a double just inside the right field line on a curveball in the middle of the plate to put the Indians on the board. Francisco Lindor pushed across another run one out later with a fielder’s choice.
The Indians’ lead did not last long as each of the first two Tigers to the plate in the bottom of the second, Miguel Cabrera and Brandon Dixon, took Tribe starter Adam Plutko deep to tie the game at two. They took the lead in the next inning on a sacrifice fly from Christin Stewart.
Cleveland put the game away in the next half inning as the team sent 13 batters to the plate with each of the first six reaching base safely. Perez singled to right before Bauers chased an 0-2 pitch well below the zone and chopped it to the left side of the infield. Carpenter’s throw to first was not in time and Bauers was on safely with his second hit in two trips. Leonys Martin put the Indians back on top with a three-run homer to right-center and Lindor and Oscar Mercado each singled ahead of a walk by Santana that ended Carpenter’s day at three-plus worked. Buck Farmer came on with the bases full of Indians and struck out Jordan Luplow, but a two-run error by the Detroit second baseman allowed Jose Ramirez to reach safely as the Indians added to their lead. Kipnis lined out for the second out before Perez, the tenth man to bat, doubled home both base runners to bring Bauers back to the plate for his second at bat of the inning. He jumped quickly on the first offering from Farmer and sent a deep gapper to the wall in left-center for an RBI-triple, aided by the spacious Comerica Park outfield, to extend the Indians lead to 10-3.
Farmer worked out of the inning with no further damage done, but gave up a run in the fifth on an RBI-triple by Ramirez. Plutko protected his advantage, allowing just single runners in the fourth and fifth.
Bauers stepped to the plate again in the top of the sixth, facing his third different pitcher of the day in Daniel Stumpf. He had retired Perez on a grounder to short previously before striking out Bauers and Martin looking.
Plutko cleared six with no further threats and turned the game over to the bullpen. Detroit’s Ron Gardenhire went to his fourth pitcher in the seventh, bringing on Blaine Hardy for a quiet frame. His eighth inning started with a leadoff single by Ramirez before outs by Kipnis and Perez. Down to his final at bat barring another big inning in the ninth, Bauers wasted no time and swung away on the first pitch from the southpaw Hardy and turned the offspeed pitch into a no-doubter, clearing the wall in right by plenty for a two-run home run to complete his cycle while giving the Indians a 13-3 lead.
Francona, who had spoken to Bauers before the game about his place on the roster and his production, was grateful for what he saw on the field from the 23-year-old.
“I have a responsibility to try to help, but he’s responsible for what happened, and I’m proud of him,” Francona said during his postgame interview with the media. “We talked for a long time, but he’s the one that did it.”
Bauers’ cycle was the first by the team since Rajai Davis tallied all four hits in a return to his former Toronto home on July 2, 2016. The first cycle in team history was recorded on September 24, 1903, by Bill Bradley. Thirty years later, Earl Averill notched the second on August 17, 1933. Others to do so include Odell Hale (July 12, 1938), Larry Doby (June 4, 1952), Tony Horton (July 2, 1970), and the lesser expected Andre Thornton (April 22, 1978) and Travis Hafner (August 14, 2003), both better known for their power than the ability to tally the hardest leg of the cycle, the triple.
“I don’t know man, to be honest with you, I was just trying to simplify everything tonight,” Bauers shared postgame with Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio’s Andre Knott. “Not think about mechanics. Not think about my swing or anything like that. Just stay to left-center and have some good at bats.
“I had a conversation with Biebs [Shane Bieber] right before I go up there [for his final at bat]. I was like, ‘should I do it?’ He was like, ‘yeah, go for it man, go for it’. Went for it a little bit, obviously it worked out.”
The cycle by Bauers marked the eighth time in nine occurrences that the Indians completed the four-hit feat on the road (Averill’s remains the only home cycle in team history).
Bauers’ effort was the third cycle of the year in the Majors. Minnesota’s Jorge Polanco recorded the season’s first of six on April 5, and the day before Bauers’ game, Los Angeles’ Shohei Ohtani got one with the Angels. Three more were hit following Bauers’, including the only one in the National League for the year by Washington’s Trea Turner on July 23, Baltimore’s Jonathan Villar on August 5, and rookie Cavan Biggio in his September 17 performance for Toronto against the Orioles, making him part of the second father-son duo (Hall of Famer Craig Biggio) to pull off the cycle during their big league careers.
For Bauers, the cycle did not keep him around as the season progressed, even after public support from Francona about believing in the young hitter. With roster spots and playing time needed at the end of July after the acquisitions of outfielders Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes in a three-team trade before the deadline, Bauers’ roster spot was gone and it was back to the minors for the first time with the Indians. He appeared in 24 games with the Clippers, hitting .247 with seven doubles, three homers, and 15 RBI, before he rejoined the big league roster at the end of August. Playing sparingly down the stretch, he hit .138 with a .350 OBP over a 17-game span that included just nine starts.
With some question marks still remaining in the Tribe’s outfield (should play resume in 2020), the young Bauers still has a chance to make his mark on the Indians lineup and find ways to contribute in the years ahead. His efforts like the one just a year ago give hope that he can be a productive big leaguer capable of putting up the kind of production that the Cleveland lineup needs.
Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images