CLEVELAND -- The history between Oliver Pérez and Bryce Harper played in the Indians’ favor.
With runners on the corners, one out and Cleveland clinging to a two-run lead with Harper coming up to bat, Indians manager Terry Francona turned to Perez to escape the jam. But despite what the numbers told him, Harper came out on top, launching a three-run blast that helped lift the Phillies to a 9-4 victory over the Tribe on Saturday night at Progressive Field. Coupled with Tampa Bay's walk-off win over the Red Sox, the Indians fell one game out of the final American League Wild Card spot.
“I give [Harper] a ton of credit,” Francona said. “I mean, it’s a guy that he has historically had a really tough time against and he fouled off enough pitches, and he’s a good enough hitter where he got something that was spinning and caught the plate, and he hurt us. That was a heck of an at-bat. It pains me to say that, but it was.”
Indians starter Zach Plesac left Perez in a tough spot, exiting the game after tossing 90 pitches in 4 1/3 innings. In five previous at-bats against Perez, Harper had gone 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. But on the ninth pitch of Saturday's plate appearance, the slugger turned on a 79.7 mph slider and launched it a projected 413 feet into the stands.
“I think my goal on that pitch was I was trying to bounce it, because I was throwing a low fastball,” Perez said. “I was trying to confuse him. That ball didn't do anything. I think the ball landed in his big spot. ... I just tried to do my best and it's part of the game. It's tough for us and we'll just have to forget it and come tomorrow and try to win Sunday.”
Perez was attempting to bail Plesac out of some trouble in Plesac's first start since Sept. 10. The Indians wanted to make sure that they weren’t over-working the rookie in his first experience pitching deep into September, and Francona felt confident that the 24-year-old wouldn’t lose his sharpness with some extra rest. But that didn’t prove to be the case.
In his shortest start since a rain-shortened outing on July 16, Plesac was charged with four runs -- two from the Harper homer -- off five hits and two walks over 4 1/3 innings.
“I was just trying to find that rhythm, that tempo,” Plesac said. “Delivery was kind of inconsistent the whole game. I tried to get back in it, looked at some video. I found it at one point and it was just finding that tempo. I felt good, velo was there. Everything felt good. Breaking pitches were there. Just made too many pitches, I think.”
Plesac tossed his first career complete game and shutout against the Angels in that Sept. 10 outing in Anaheim. Yet after taking the next 10 days off, he worked himself into an early jam in the first, putting runners on first and third with one out, though he was able to escape unscathed. However, he went on to give up an RBI double to Phillies outfielder Adam Haseley in the second, followed by a solo homer to Brad Miller -- his first of two on the night -- in the fourth. Then came the fifth.
“You look up and I think [Plesac] only had two walks, but there were so many deep counts,” Francona said. “He was at 90 [pitches] getting into the fifth. When you throw that many pitches and you got those hitters coming around again for the third time, I was leery because he had -- there were some hard outs and there was a lot of deep counts -- and I just thought we were kind of dodging some bullets. It ended up not working out very good.”
After the Perez-Harper matchup, Cleveland's bullpen -- which had owned a 2.93 ERA over the last two weeks dating to Sept. 8 -- continued to let the wheels fall off the cart, as James Hoyt, Nick Wittgren and James Karinchak each gave up a run.
However, at a time when the Tribe will need to rely on its relief corps more than ever, Brad Hand provided a silver lining, striking out the side in the sixth in his first appearance since being temporarily shut down due to arm fatigue nearly two weeks ago.
“I thought that was the bright spot tonight,” Francona said. “[Hand] was really good. Now, we’ll see how he bounces back tomorrow, but that was -- he looked good tonight. That was really good to see.”