CLEVELAND -- We’ve seen starting pitchers tip their caps to the crowd in response to a standing ovation following a strong performance but rarely have we seen a pitcher initiate the interaction from player-to-crowd like Indians starter Cal Quantrill did in Thursday’s 4-1 victory over the Twins at Progressive Field.
In his limited time in Cleveland thus far, Quantrill has been known to express his emotions and enthusiasm on the mound no matter what situation he’s in. So, when he and Twins slugger Miguel Sanó started exchanging words during Sanó’s seventh-inning at-bat, it was no surprise that Quantrill used that to fire himself up.
“I play this game with a lot of emotion,” Quantrill said. “Everybody knows that. It's just part of it. It's hard to get here, hard to stay here, it's hard to succeed. One of my favorite things to do in the world is toe the rubber and I'm going to leave it all out there. I think he just didn't like something I must have said earlier in the game and I guess, whatever.”
Indians designated hitter Franmil Reyes explained what happened. In the sixth inning, Josh Donaldson swung at a 3-0 pitch and grounded out to shortstop for the second out of the inning. As explained by Reyes, Quantrill made a comment to Donaldson about swinging on a 3-0 count, which led to Sanó chirping at Quantrill an inning later.
“What he said to Donaldson, it was not even disrespectful,” Reyes said. “He just said, ‘Nice 3-0 swings, Donaldson.’ Just that. And Sanó, when he walked to the plate, he just said, ‘Say it to his face.’ And Cal just said, ‘I did. I did say it to his face.’ Thank God nothing happened.”
Quantrill and Sanó exchanged words as Sanó stepped into the box. After he grounded out for the second out of the seventh inning, the two continued to chirp at each other until Sanó was off the field. And after Quantrill retired the next batter he faced to end the frame, he was fueled by his interaction with Sanó and extended his hands just above his shoulders and motioned for the crowd to cheer just steps away from his dugout.
“He should be happy he’s getting guys out rather than mouthing off to them,” Twins acting manager Bill Evers said. “That’s my personal opinion.”
The takeaway from Quantrill: He was happy to be getting guys out, and so was the rest of his team. Over the last few seasons, a Twins-Indians series scheduled for the middle of September would cause most to envision a tight division race as the focus shifts toward the postseason, but that’s far from the case in 2021, as neither club boasts a winning record.
Yet somehow, Quantrill briefly caused Progressive Field to have a playoff-like vibe by flashing a side of his personality that’s not often seen by a Cleveland hurler. And after the performance he had, he certainly earned the extra spring in his step. He permitted one run -- a solo homer by Sanó -- on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings -- the deepest he’s ever pitched into a game on a career-high 109 pitches.
“You really want to reward your manager when he gives you that opportunity,” Quantrill said. “I felt I let the team down in Boston and I wanted a second chance today.”
It’s not the rotation filled with hurlers like Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco like it was over the last few years. But it’s that passion from Quantrill that has fans -- and his teammates -- excited for the new look to a starting crew that’s showing a tremendous amount of potential for years to come.
“What he always does in the game, of course, it fires the whole team up,” Reyes said, “especially when it’s a big situation, when he gets out of those innings when they’re pretty tight. … I would love him to keep doing it.”
Quantrill has used the second half of the season to prove he can be a force in the Indians rotation. He’s helped the starters navigate injuries to key hurlers like Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale, leading the group to a 3.16 ERA in the last month (since Aug. 9) -- the second lowest in the Majors in that span behind the Dodgers. And since the All-Star break, Quantrill has posted a 1.97 ERA, despite his five-run clunker in Boston over the weekend.
And with the drive that he has, especially now after getting a taste of being a regular starter, Quantrill at the back end of this rotation in 2022 has the chance to be dominant.
“If today wasn't evidence enough that we care about the baseball that's being played,” Quantrill said, “then I don't know what to say.”