Indians reliever Cal Quantrill could’ve let the sixth inning slip away from him on Monday night at Guaranteed Rate Field. Instead of crumbling after getting himself into a bases-loaded, no-out jam, he escaped unscathed and returned for a perfect seventh. But just as the momentum seemed to be shifting into Cleveland’s favor, it abruptly disappeared.
With the game tied and the sacks full in the sixth, Quantrill avoided trouble by striking out Yermín Mercedes and forcing Yasmani Grandal into a 3-6-1 double play. Quantrill pumped his fists twice down by his hips as he let out a thunderous roar in celebration. But a moment that felt like a surge of momentum in favor of Cleveland was all for naught when an odd play three innings later caused the Indians to drop the series opener against the White Sox, 4-3.
“I mean, if you look at the game from top to bottom, I feel like we played a really solid game, one through nine,” Indians starter Triston McKenzie said. “I feel like we win that game if not for that fluky play at the end there.”
Yu Chang was a huge reason why Quantrill was able to pull off his Houdini act in the sixth. A first-pitch changeup got Grandal to hit a ground ball to Chang at first base, and Chang was able to get off a quick throw to second to start the double play.
“It’s a tough sport, man, and we care a lot about it,” Quantrill said. “We want to win. I care a lot about my teammates, and they worked hard to give us a chance to win today.”
Chang’s decision in the sixth to pivot and go to second was one that sparked that euphoric celebration, but that same decision caused the team to walk off the field in defeat in the ninth.
Chang started to get some time at first base toward the end of Spring Training, and he has had limited reps at the position. And his inexperience was put on full display on the final play.
Cleveland called on Emmanuel Clase to work the bottom of the ninth with the score knotted at 3. With runners on first and second and one out, Nick Williams hit a soft ground ball to Chang -- soft enough that a double play would nearly be impossible. Instead of securing the out at first base, Chang tried to duplicate his play from the sixth inning, but his throw hit the runner advancing to second base in the helmet, allowing the game-winning run to score as the ball caromed away.
“That’s one where you just take the out at first,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We don’t really care about the force in that situation. But I will say, earlier in the game, [Chang] made one of the better plays when he turned that double play. So, in a sense, I’m glad he’s not shying away from throwing the ball to second, [but] this will give us a chance to talk to him tomorrow that that probably wasn’t the right time.”
It wasn’t the outcome that the team wanted, especially after Quantrill gave his all earlier in the night to keep the Indians in contention. But that doesn’t take away from what the righty, who had been battling for a spot in the rotation during Spring Training, proved in his outing. Through three innings this season, Quantrill owns a sparkling 0.00 ERA.
“I thought his stuff was tremendous,” Francona said.
Although Cleveland suffered the loss, the team was able to walk away with an optimistic outlook about the competition it gave a club that’s received plenty more buzz and attention within the American League Central. And with eight of the Indians’ next 18 contests scheduled against the White Sox, Cleveland is confident about how it matches up.
“I mean, we fought hard,” Quantrill said. “I think this is going to be a great battle all year long. They got a great team. I think that we got a good team, too, though. And I think that they know that.”