Backed by Two Long Balls, Bieber Battles Way to Win; CLE 3, CHC 2
Bob Toth | On 11, May 2021
Shane Bieber dodged and weaved through some tough situations on Tuesday and got some big help from his friends as a pair of Tribe taters gave the Cleveland Indians a 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs to start a quick two-game interleague set from Progressive Field.
Pitching on extended rest, Bieber needed a career-high number of pitches to work into the seventh inning, but he showed why he is known as the staff’s ace and the reigning Cy Young winner in the American League by gutting his way deep into the outing. He struck out his customary eight batters, something that he has done for a record 20 consecutive games, and the Indians offense provided just enough run support to hold off the visiting Cubs.
Playing their penultimate game of a short five-game homestand and taking the field for the first time since a solid 9-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, the Indians struggled early against Cubs’ right-hander Adbert Alzolay, but two big swings came through clutch as the team once again relied on extra base hits to power the RBI machine.
Neither team made noise in the first, although Bieber made a nice snag of a first pitch screamer off of the bat of Joc Pederson starting the night’s festivities. In the second, however, the Cubs loaded the bases and could have broken the infant game open. Anthony Rizzo doubled to left and came in on a grounder up the middle by Willson Contreras to give Chicago an early lead. David Bote worked a walk after falling behind 1-2 and Jason Heyward was grazed by a cutter to fill the bags. Bieber punched out the next man, Ildemaro Vargas, on a curveball and Eric Sogard chopped the next offering to second, where Cesar Hernandez started an inning-ending double play to escape a dangerous situation.
The Indians had a mini-threat of their own in the bottom half of the inning, but could not strike through against Alzolay. After back-to-back strikeouts to start the inning, Josh Naylor and Harold Ramirez each singled to put a pair on. Andres Gimenez sent a slider back towards third base, where Duffy tagged the bag to end the rally attempt.
A one-out double by Kris Bryant was wiped out on a double play liner to end the top of the third, while Alzolay got a twin-killer of his own to get out of the bottom half.
Bieber had to fight his way out of another pickle in the fourth. He walked the leadoff man Rizzo and Contreras moved him into scoring position on a single to center. Bote nicked one out in front of the plate, where Austin Hedges pounced and fired to third to cut down the lead runner Rizzo. Heyward grounded to Jake Bauers at first for the second out and Vargas was cut down swinging.
Cleveland evened up the score with a big fly in the bottom of the fourth. Ramirez took three straight out of the zone before Alzolay came back with two strikes. Ramirez fouled off pitch six, but the second payoff pitch was left where the dangerous slugger could get to as he drove the “home run pitch” over the right field wall for his AL-lead tying tenth homer of the year, tying the game at one.
The Cubs responded in eerily similar fashion to start the fifth. Sogard pushed the count full and yanked the seventh pitch of his at bat out of the yard to right, putting Chicago right back on top, 2-1. Bieber struck out the next two before a pair reached, but he got out of the inning with no further damage done by getting Contreras to ground to third.
The Tribe flipped the scales in their favor for good in the bottom of the fifth with a big response to the Cubs’ tally. H. Ramirez grounded to third to start the inning, but Gimenez was hit on the right hand by a pitch and was awarded first base after a replay challenge from manager Terry Francona. Hedges could not move the runner along as he flied to center for the second out. With Hernandez starting his third at bat of the day, Gimenez swiped second, but that proved less significant on the other end of the trip to the box for Hernandez as he clobbered a fourth straight slider from Alzolay, sending the 3-2 pitch into the night sky for a two-out, two-run home run to give the Indians a 3-2 lead.
Bieber suffered another scare along the way to open the sixth. After punching out Bote swinging, Heyward doubled to center. Vargas grounded out to move the tying run to third, but Bieber won his rematch with Sogard, setting him down whiffing at a low curveball with his seventh strikeout of the game.
Alzolay finished six innings of work with a 1-2-3 sixth, bringing Bieber back to the mound. With the strike zone curiously expanding, he allowed a leadoff single to Pederson, but after a long battle with Nick Martini, he punched out Bryant’s replacement (due to illness) on the front end of a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play. Matt Duffy singled to right and moved to second on a bobbled ball in right by Naylor, sending Francona out to the mound to retrieve Bieber. James Karinchak entered and promptly retired Rizzo on a first pitch floater to center.
The Indians put up no threats against Cubs’ relievers Brad Wieck and Rex Brothers over their final two trips, but Chicago had some base traffic against the Cleveland ‘pen. Karinchak walked the leadoff man to start the top of the eighth, but set down the next three in a good outing overall. Emmanuel Clase took over for the ninth in search of his seventh save, but had to earn it in his first appearance since a horrendous ninth inning on Friday against the Cincinnati Reds. He struck out Sogard, but Pederson and Martini each reached with singles to put the tying and go-ahead runs on the bases. Duffy was unable to deliver though, as he grounded to second to start the 4-6-3 game-ending double play, the fourth different pitcher’s best friend for the Tribe in nine frames.
Bieber battled his way through six and two-thirds innings, allowing just a pair of runs on nine hits with three walks and eight strikeouts. He needed 121 pitches to get through his outing, the most of his career. While he dealt with a ton of traffic, he was also the recipient of three different double plays to get him out of big trouble. He improved to 4-2 on the year while lowering his ERA to 2.95.
“My stuff hasn’t been exceptional like the beginning of the year right now, so to be able to go out there and you got one goal in mind and that’s to win,” said Bieber.
The Indians moved to 19-14 on the season, while the Cubs dropped to 17-18.
Alzolay dropped to 1-3 despite a quality showing for the Cubs. He worked six full innings, charged with three runs on five hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out six on 94 pitches.
No Indians hitter reached base more than once. The light traffic left the Indians with just two opportunities on the night with runners in scoring position. The Cubs had a different performance at the plate, as they tallied eleven hits (including two-hit games from Pederson, Duffy, and Contreras) with four more base runners via walk and another on a hit by pitch. The story of their night though was an abysmal 1-for-12 showing with runners in scoring position while stranding ten men in the one-run contest.
It will be a quick turnaround for both clubs, as the two will head back to Progressive Field for the series finale at 1:10 PM ET on Wednesday afternoon on a getaway day. The Indians will turn to rookie left-hander Sam Hentges (1-0, 5.00 ERA), who will make his first Major League start. The Cubs will call upon veteran right-hander Zach Davies (2-2, 6.30 ERA), who will face Cleveland for the first time in his seven-year career.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images