BALTIMORE -- All Indians left fielder Eddie Rosario could do was look up into the first row of the left-field stands and wonder what could’ve happened if that row would’ve been empty.
Cleveland carried a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh with Bryan Shaw -- one of its most reliable arms all year -- on the mound. With a runner on, Ryan Mountcastle launched a ball just over the left-field fence that Rosario could not come down with. His glove was intermixed with two fans, who were also tracking the fly ball. After a lengthy replay review, the call stood, and that two-run homer became the difference in the Indians' 3-1 loss to the Orioles in Friday's series opener at Camden Yards.
“That's what we were trying to get called was interference,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “The view that we have in the ballpark, we have one view. And it looked to me like interference. I know they have multiple views, but it looked to me like Eddie went straight up and definitely got hindered. So I don't know. I know they have other views.”
As flashbacks to the infamous Jeffrey Maier homer came rushing back, Rosario flipped his attention back and forth between the stands and the replay review on the big screen. But after the umpiring crew threw on the headsets, no interference was called. Mountcastle proceeded to finish his high fives and celebrations in the dugout once the call was confirmed.
“I mean obviously from here, all I saw was him jump and the ball come back down fair,” Shaw said. “I didn’t know if it hit his glove, hit people behind him or what it was. … Obviously I don’t think there’s a camera that goes straight down that way, so it’s tough to make that call. They made the call they made and it is what it is.”
It was a rare moment for Shaw in his stellar start to the 2021 season. The blast marked just the second homer he’s given up this year, as he entered the night having permitted just three runs in his first 23 appearances -- the fewest in that span in his career. And even after being touched for two runs on Friday, his five earned runs in 24 appearances is still tied for the second fewest in that span in his career.
“I guess action-wise, it was a decent slider down,” Shaw said of the homer pitch to Mountcastle. “Obviously, no, not where we wanted it. We wanted it away off the plate, but obviously didn’t get it there. It was still a decent pitch down, just kind of right where he was at, right where he wanted it, obviously. Obviously if it’s three inches farther out, it’s either a swing and miss or a popup.”
Shaw’s walk rate has been higher than normal this year, but he’s been able to navigate around those free passes, except for Friday. Although he was coming off two days of rest, Shaw noted that the extra time off wasn’t the reason for his troubles at the outset of the seventh inning.
“I think this is the first time we’ve actually been in some humidity, some heat,” Shaw said. “Obviously the ball has a little more moisture on it, more wet. It just took a second to get a feel for it.”
When Shaw reported to Spring Training on a Minor League contract, he was confident that he’d prove he reinvented himself enough to be an impact arm out of the ‘pen. Francona was hoping that Shaw could fill a wildcard role, throwing him in any situation, regardless of the inning. And that’s exactly what he’s been.
Shaw had gone 11 appearances (9 1/3 innings) without giving up a run before Mountcastle’s homer, and has been the unsung hero of this team. And as the Indians still try to figure out how to piece their rotation back together while Zach Plesac (right thumb fracture) is out, the bullpen is going to continue to play a heavy role, especially when hurlers like Friday starter Jean Carlos Mejía and Cal Quantrill are in the process of stretching their pitch counts out. And Shaw’s role is only going to get more crucial.
“That’s what we get paid to do down there,” Shaw said. “Our job is to keep the game where it’s at and allow our hitters to be able to get back in the game, keep the lead or take the lead, depending on where it’s at. It doesn’t matter, like I said, if it’s one inning or eight innings, it’s our job to do it.”