NEW YORK -- Brad Hand got the ground ball he needed to escape Wednesday night with his first save in four outings. But the Indians couldn’t execute the play, resulting in a 4-3 loss to the Mets at Citi Field in 10 innings.
The Tribe sent Hand to the mound with a one-run lead in the bottom of the 10th, thanks to Carlos Santana's two-out solo home run in the top half of the inning. With one out and runners on first and third, Hand forced Michael Conforto to hit a ground ball to Santana, who had plenty of time to fire home to prevent the tying run from scoring. But the first baseman decided to go to second to try to end the game with a double play. The only problem was, no one was covering first.
“I mean the game’s happening fast,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But with a lefty on the mound, he’s not gonna be able to get over [to first]. So unless [Santana] can get back, there’s nobody else there to take the throw.”
Santana fielded the ball about 20 feet from first and didn’t have enough time to turn around to get back to the bag. So where was Hand? The Indians' closer originally broke home, expecting Santana to throw to the plate to get the lead runner, who catcher Roberto Perez said would’ve been thrown out easily.
“Yeah, he’s out,” said Perez, if the ball would’ve come home. “Hit a ground ball right at Santana, but I’m not double-guessing the play. Santana is really good at first base. Just took the chance to get the double play. Those things happen in the game. Just got to get better.”
Because Hand broke home, he didn’t have enough time to re-direct himself toward first base to receive shortstop Francisco Lindor’s throw to complete the double play.
“I kind of stopped,” Hand said. “I expected him to throw it home. Once he wasn’t throwing it home, I didn’t really have a chance to get over there in time. Just a tough play.”
The play caused Hand to blow his third consecutive save and fifth of the season. He gave up a leadoff double to Amed Rosario, picked up the first out of the inning on a sacrifice bunt and intentionally walked Pete Alonso to get to Conforto. Then, the missed attempt at the double play occurred to tie the game, as Wilson Ramos singled on a ball a few feet in front of the plate and J.D. Davis recorded his first walk-off single to left.
“I mean he threw the ball well,” Perez said. “I mean he made a mistake to Rosario right there, but I thought he made good pitches to Conforto to get the double play. Pitchers go through that stretch. He’s going through it right now. He’ll be fine. I’m not worried about him. He’s just got to keep working at it and get better.”
In his last five appearances, Hand has given up seven earned runs in five innings (12.60 ERA) with 13 hits and five walks after going a perfect 22-for-22 in save opportunities to start the season.
“I don’t really know what it is. I think it’s just baseball,” Hand said. “I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily making worse pitches than I was earlier in the year. Just not bearing down and getting the out whenever I need to, whatever it is. I’m just not getting the job done right now. I need to be better.”
While Hand has officially only blown three straight saves, he gave up two runs in his inning of work in the Indians’ win against the Yankees on Sunday, resulting in four straight appearances with at least one run allowed. But as Hand hits this rough patch, there is no question in his manager's mind about whether to pitch someone else in the final inning.
“We can’t run from Brad,” Francona said. “To get where we want to go, we’ve got to get him hot.”