Tribe's ninth-inning rally cut short vs. Twins

June 26th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians knew they were entering the year as an underdog. Because of that, the team has harped on the importance of aggressive baserunning since the start of Spring Training. But aggressiveness doesn’t always pay off.

The Indians were trying to rally back from their two-run deficit in the ninth when Josh Naylor launched a solo homer to cut it to one. And outfielder Bradley Zimmer did his best to keep the momentum going with a single to right field, but was thrown out attempting to stretch it to a double in Cleveland’s 8-7 loss to Minnesota at Target Field on Friday night.

“I think they caught a break the way it bounced off the wall, but I still liked the idea that he was aggressive,” manager Terry Francona said. “He was aggressive out of the box.”

Zimmer’s ground ball that went past a diving Alex Kirilloff at first bounced off the angled wall down the right-field line, kicking it back out in the middle of right field. Max Kepler quickly approached the ball and fired a strike to second base in time to nab Zimmer.

Although the Indians attempted to get his efforts rewarded, a replay review confirmed the second out of the inning. Instead of having a runner on with one out in the ninth, Austin Hedges was left with the bases empty and two outs before his ground out ended the game.

“It didn't go our way,” Francona said of Zimmer’s decision. “They made a good play, I thought it was a good piece of baserunning, though.”

That play was a representation of how the entire night went for the Indians on Friday. The team somehow found itself in a handful of bad-luck or poorly executed situations. Naylor lost a ball in the sun in the first inning and Harold Ramirez tried to slide his body in front of a ball in left field in the third (both hit by Luis Arraez) that led to triples. And Cesar Hernandez wasn’t able to reach a relatively routine ground ball at second that didn’t help reliever Nick Wittgren escape trouble in the eighth.

“Naylor, yeah, at the end he lost that ball in the sun and then he lost his balance,” Francona said. “It handcuffed him and he fell. Harold tried to slide to stop it and probably in hindsight, was probably better off just reaching down for it, but the game's going fast sometimes because he kind of ended up helping its momentum towards the wall.

“I mean, shoot man. [Wittgren] had what, three pitches and he had two quick outs, and you're like OK. And then just some balls caught the middle of the plate. Yeah, it is baseball.”

In a time where the Indians are in a dire situation with their pitching staff, these missteps are difficult to overcome. Cleveland is left with Cal Quantrill, J.C Mejía, Sam Hentges and Eli Morgan in its rotation with a vacancy that still needs to be filled for either Sunday or Monday. And when one of the most crucial parts of this roster is left with so many inexperienced players, eight-run nights from the pitching staff are bound to occur.

Quantrill was tagged with six runs through 4 1/3 frames and Wittgren, who’s struggled to get in the same groove he was in the last two seasons, gave up the final two in the eighth. But the Indians have still been able to find ways to navigate these enormous hurdles, winning seven of their last 11 contests, while owning a 22-13 record against the American League Central on the year.

“We’re trying to win baseball games,” Quantrill said. “Today, obviously, wasn’t my best effort, but Mejía had a great one yesterday. I think we go out there and we pitch like we’re starting pitchers and we’ve been starting pitchers the whole season and we see what happens.”