Different players are making the difference every night in the Indians five-game winning streak.
By PAT McMANAMONFS Ohio
CLEVELAND -- The ninth hitter had four hits, including the game-winner.
The No. 2 guy had a triple that drove in two runs and a bunt single that drove in another.
And the cleanup DH hit a no-doubt-about-it home run, then moved to first base to make a diving stop on a ground ball.
It was that kind of game Friday night, as the Indians won their fifth in a row by beating the Minnesota Twins 7-6 in 10 innings.
It was one fine baseball game, with strategy, managers thinking ahead and guys coming up with key hits and key plays.
It’s one of 162, but it illustrates what the Indians wanted to achieve this season with the lineup they put together. With Michael Bourn (finger) and Nick Swisher (shoulder) still on the bench, Drew Stubbs had four hits, three of which were doubles. The last landed at the base of the left-field wall and scored Mike Aviles, which led to a vacuous celebration between second and third.
"To go out there, run around and act like kids, even though we're grown men – these kind of nights are fun,” said Mark Reynolds, whose two-run home run was his ninth and landed far up in the bleachers.
The Indians have 72 hits and 46 runs the past five games. But they’re it in different ways. One night it’s seven home runs, the next it’s seven infield hits. One night it’s a rookie not giving up a run while walking six, the next it’s a veteran struggling to get through seven and smiling at the team’s win. Two nights it’s Ryan Raburn hitting two home runs, another it’s Stubbs with four hits, three of them doubles.
Stubbs arrived from Cincinnati in the Shin-Soo Choo trade off a .214 season. He arrived determined to prove last year was not him.
“I believe in myself,” he said.
Francona said Stubbs worked all winter “wanting to prove that last year was not him.” Stubbs eliminated a leg kick while hitting, and went to more of a toe tap. He said that keeps him from moving too much.
“The less movement the more still your head is,” he said.
Prior to his at-bat in the 10th, he talked to teammates about Twins reliever Casey Fien.
“I was looking out over the plate or for something moving away from me,” he said. “I don’t know if the pitch was a cutter or a slider, but I definitely saw the spin on it and put a good swing on it.”
There was never a doubt -- Twins center fielder Wilkin Ramirez basically just trotted to the dugout as Stubbs scampered to second. But the inning showed what Francona means when he talks about playing the game right. Aviles started with a single to the opposite field. Ezequiel Carrera bunted him to second.
“That’s putting yourself in position to win,” Francona said.
Stubbs’ four hits matched a career high, and he became the first Indian to get four hits in the ninth spot since 2010. In his last three games, he’s gone 9-for-13 with three doubles, one home run and three RBI. In those games, he’s improved his average from .213 to .284.
“I’m just seeing the ball well right now and putting good swings on pitches to hit,” he said. “When you’re not going so well you miss good pitches to hit and you swing at balls you shouldn’t. I’m going to try to keep riding it out as long as I can.”
At one point, it seem that aFrancona decision could be second guessable. But he had his reasons, and the numbers backed him up.
In the seventh, he removed Justin Masterson and brought in Cody Allen. Francona said he was deciding between Allen or lefty Rich Hill -- and he knew Ron Gardenhire would pinch-hit Josh Willingham if he brought in Hill. He did not want that matchup.
The move backfired when Chris Parmalee, a left-handed hitter, hit a two-run home run off Allen to put the Twins up 7-6.
Prior to the home run, Allen had retired 11 in a row and 12 lefties in a row. Lefties were hitting .227 against him, and Parmalee started the game hitting .211 against righties, .333 against lefties. Allen also had gone 9 1/3 innings without giving up a run. In the eighth, he retired three lefties in a row.
Francona never was asked directly why he chose Allen over Joe Smith, who traditionally pitches the seventh with the Indians leading. He merely said Smith would have pitched the 11th. (Saturday, though, he said he held Smith back because Vinnie Pestano has a sore elbow and he needed to rest him.)
Clearly Francona trusts Allen.
What ultimately matters is the Indians won and the team is starting to show the personality expected of it in the offseason of excitement.
The Indians stumbled out of town after the last homestand at 5-9. At that point, Reynolds said one five-game winning streak would erase the slow start.
They’ve got that streak, and after winning eight-of-11 they’re at .500 for the first time since April 13.