To be honest, I thought the game was over on Corey Kluber's ninth pitch. Ian Kinsler had led off with a double and was sacrificed to third. Bunts are usually bad, but this one was somewhat defensible: As good as Kluber has been, the Detroit Tigers' best hope for a win over the Cleveland Indians very well might have been to scrape across a run and then hope for a shutout.
Kluber's ninth pitch was a 3-2 fastball to Miguel Cabrera. It had good movement as it started outside and spun back toward the outside corner. Cabrera took it, but plate umpire Scott Barry rang him up. It was outside, but you don't win 20 games in a row without a few generous calls from the umpires. Cabrera shook his head and mouthed "wow" as he walked to the dugout. Then Nicholas Castellanos struck out, and the Tigers got only two runners as far as second base the rest of the night, both on two-out doubles.
The Indians won 2-0, tying the 2002 A's with a 20-game win streak, the American League record.
The Indians also had a little message for the A's after this one:
The best thing about this game was Kluber coming out for the exclamation point in the ninth inning. He had thrown 102 pitches, and I'm guessing most managers (maybe every manager?) would have gone to the closer there. Cody Allen didn't pitch Monday, though he did pitch Saturday and Sunday; still, Terry Francona trusted Kluber to finish it with an efficient inning.
We hyperventilate these days when a pitcher reaches 100 pitches, but Kluber often gets stronger the deeper he goes. Heading into this game, he had allowed a .460 OPS the third time through the order, and on pitches 101 and beyond, batters had hit just .122 against him.
He did give up a two-out double in the ninth, but then he retired Cabrera on a bouncer to third base on his 113th pitch of the game. After the game, Francona did admit that was going to be Kluber's final batter. So Kluber ends up with his fifth complete game and his third shutout this season, and he improves to 16-4 with a 2.44 ERA, making the Cy Young battle with Chris Sale even tighter.
As always, Kluber didn't look any different than he does when he brushes his teeth in the morning:
Wow, incredible emotion from Corey Kluber here as the Indians clinch their 20th win in a row pic.twitter.com/obWtWB78yj— Emma Span (@emmaspan) September 13, 2017
The amazing thing about this streak is how few of the games were ever in jeopardy. The Indians have thrown seven shutouts and have needed just three one-run victories. There was one game, however, that made the streak possible. Game No. 8 was the first game of a doubleheader against the Tigers on Friday, Sept. 1. The Tigers tied the game 2-2 with a run in the bottom of the eighth, but Jay Bruce hit a pinch-hit triple with one out in the ninth and scored on Francisco Lindor's base hit.
Allen had allowed the game-tying hit in the eighth and came back out for the ninth. He gave up singles to James McCann, Jose Iglesias and, with two outs, Alex Presley. Pinch runner Andrew Romine advanced only to third, however, which brought up Cabrera. Francona replaced Allen with Joe Smith. Here's what happened.
That's one inning that nobody cared much about at the time. If Cabrera's liner is a foot to the left or right, the streak is at zero instead of eight. Isn't baseball wonderful?
Dodgers win! Dodgers win! Here's what kind of roller coaster it has been for Los Angeles Dodgers fans. My editor is a Dodgers fan, and as the Giants loaded the bases in the ninth inning with one out, down 5-3 with Buster Posey coming up, she messaged me, "My best friend just texted me, 'I feel like it’s the World Series.'" This is what baseball does to us.
The Giants loaded the bases against Kenley Jansen with a hard-hit single and two infield tricklers, one off Jansen’s glove and one down the third-base line. This was the biggest moment of a terrible season for the Giants: Posey vs. Jansen. The camera panned to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts in the dugout, and he looked like he was about to undergo a colonoscopy.
As a neutral observer, I was seeing Posey line a three-run double in the gap. Instead, the Dodgers' 11-game nightmare is over. Jansen fanned Posey swinging on a 3-2 fastball. It was up to Nick Hundley, who was 0-for-9 with nine K's in his career against Jansen. Three pitches later, he was 0-for-10 with 10 K's.
The major takeaway from this game: Man, the Giants are horrible. Clayton Kershaw wasn't particularly sharp. Giants left fielder Austin Slater butchered Kershaw's line-drive "double" in the fourth, which led to three more runs after Chase Utley homered to tie the score.
It was 4-2 in the sixth when the Giants loaded the bases with two outs for the pitcher's spot. The pinch hitter? Career third-string catcher Tim Federowicz, owner of a .194 career average. Anyway, we don't have to talk about the losing streak now. But the Dodgers have still lost 16 of 18. (I kid, Dodgers fans, I kid. You still have the best record in the majors.)
Jason Kipnis to center field? Kipnis isn't even off the disabled list from his hamstring injury yet, but he's close and has been taking fly balls in the outfield the past couple of days. With Bradley Zimmer out, possibly through the postseason, Francona said the Indians could try Kipnis in center field, where he played in college.
"If he's comfortable enough to do it, we might play him out there a little bit just to see how he does," Francona said.
There's nothing wrong with trying it. Note that Francona isn't yet saying that Kipnis is going to be his starting center fielder in the playoffs or anything. We all remember that poor center-field defense might have cost the Indians the World Series in Game 7. This is also the team, however, that started Carlos Santana in left field twice against the Cubs when he hadn't played out there all season. So you never know.
The biggest hitch I see is that Kipnis hasn't hit this season (.228/.285/.409), so I don't see a desperate need to get his bat in the lineup. With Jose Ramirez able to handle second and Yandy Diaz at least getting on base while playing third (.378 OBP), Kipnis might be most useful in the postseason as a bench guy.
Wild-card winner of the night. The Minnesota Twins pounded the Padres 16-0, becoming the first team in MLB history to homer in each of the first seven innings (though the 1999 Reds also homered in seven consecutive innings). Jason Castro hit two of the seven home runs, and Brian Dozier clubbed his 30th.
Wild-card loser of the night. Justin Verlander seems to be enjoying pitching for a team headed to the playoffs. In his second start for the Houston Astros, he gave up a leadoff double to Brandon Phillips ... and then no more hits the rest of the way, pitching eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 victory over the Angels (who fell two games behind the Twins). Verlander finished with nine strikeouts and had his second-highest swing-and-miss rate of the season.
It's interesting that Verlander is following Dallas Keuchel in the rotation. Once the playoffs start, you have to think that's going to be reversed. Verlander will be the Game 1 starter in the division series.
One of the biggest surprises of the season has been Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, who went 3-for-4 with his 22nd home run and is hitting .292/.325/.547. He wasn't on the prospect radar before the season, in part because he played third base at Double-A Springfield, where he hit 22 home runs but also hit .260 with 144 strikeouts. The Cardinals tried him at shortstop in the Fall League, and he played well enough to remain there at Triple-A.
The power is legit. The defensive metrics are solid. The red flag is 107 strikeouts and just 14 walks, so he hasn't done a great job controlling the strike zone. On the other hand, while the chase rate is high, at 32 percent, it isn't extreme. Same goes for his strikeout rate. As a young player, the hope is that he can improve in these areas and learn to tap into his power even more.
Colorado Rockies fans: Where has this been all season? Big win for the Rockies as they beat the Diamondbacks for the second straight time. That's six straight for the Rockies on this road trip to L.A. and Phoenix, and remember that they had been stumbling heading into these games. Jon Gray fanned 10, and Carlos Gonzalez slammed two home runs, including this monster shot off David Hernandez:
That's four home runs in five games for CarGo, and suddenly the Rockies are just three games behind the Diamondbacks.
New home for the Oakland A's? The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the A's have chosen a preferred site for a new stadium. Good luck, A's.
Shohei Otani heading to the majors? Yahoo's Jeff Passan tweeted, per multiple Japanese reports, that the Japaense two-way star will be posted this offseason. By leaving Japan before he's 25 (he's 23), Otani will be subject to MLB's new rules on international free agents, which means the maximum contract he can get is $10.1 million -- way below the $150 million-plus he'd get if he waited until he's 25 and limited by the age restrictions.
Otani, who can hit 100 mph, just returned to pitching after battling an ankle injury all season. He has started two games on the mound, though he has batted 185 times and has hit .346/.416/.574. His future in MLB is definitely as a pitcher, but his desire to play both ways could certainly influence where he signs.
As Passan tweeted, "Can't think of a free agency as fascinating as Otani's will be. Think about it: Free agency where money almost literally isn't a factor."