The history books have been dusted off plenty of times for the Indians this season, for better or for worse, but on Tuesday, the pages turned back all the way to 1920 and couldn’t find at least one instance of the way the team’s game came to an end.
Since the RBI became an official stat, the Tribe has never hit back-to-back batters to end a game in a walk-off fashion like reliever Nick Wittgren did in a 6-5 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The loss came just minutes after shortstop Francisco Lindor tied the game with a two-run homer in the top of the ninth.
“I mean, two hit batters to end the game,” temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said, “it's kind of like the way it's going for us right now.”
Oliver Pérez started the frame by putting two runners on via walk and single. With runners on the corners, Wittgren entered to face Willson Contreras and caused him to drop to the dirt on a heater up-and-in for ball one. Contreras then swung through a fastball that was high and inside before Wittgren went back to the same spot, but clipped Contreras on top of his left hand.
“Kind of pounding him in and, as you guys saw, that second pitch, he swung through the up-and-in fastball,” Wittgren said, “so tried to go right back to it again a little bit higher this time, and it just kind of ran in on his hands and got him.”
That loaded the bases for pinch-hitter Cameron Maybin. This time, Wittgren turned to his changeup, but he plunked Maybin on the first pitch to allow the walk-off run to cross the plate.
“I was just trying to throw it middle to going into him so he gets on top of it and rolls it over so we have a chance for the double [play],” Wittgren said. “Obviously I just let it go way too soon and freaking hit him.”
The Indians have been looking for a spark that would be the turning point for the offense to finally take flight. Lindor’s blast in the ninth brought an energy to the dugout that it had been missing over the past few weeks. But just as quickly as the euphoria hit, it was replaced by frustration and disappointment, as the Tribe’s losing skid extended to seven games -- its longest stretch since losing eight in a row in June 2013.
“We fight, we get back into games and then kind of get out and then I pull a stunt like this today, and that’s absolutely unacceptable for me,” Wittgren said. “You got to compete and make them try to freaking put the ball in play. … But we’ve got a great group of guys that’s grinding through it, and I guarantee you we’ll turn it around. Just a matter of time.”
For much of the season, it had been the same narrative: scoring just a few runs and letting the elite pitching staff handle the rest. But as the offense has begun to show signs of heating up, the pitching has slowly started to slump. Lindor’s home run capped a 3-for-4, four-RBI night, while Tyler Naquin logged a season-high four hits. But over the seven-game losing streak, the Tribe’s starters have logged a 5.10 ERA, while the bullpen has collectively pitched to a 10.06 ERA.
“I said earlier in the year, our season is like a book,” Lindor said. “If you don't turn the page, you can't finish the book. We've got to turn the page.”
The streak has sent the Indians plummeting down the American League postseason standings, as they own the last seed with the Tigers, whom the Tribe plays four times this weekend, four games back in the loss column. With only 12 games remaining until the postseason, the Indians are running out of time to hit their stride.
“Yeah, there's pressure,” Lindor said. “We're humans. We see how many games we have left, we see the scoreboards. … If we handle this the right way and we're the team that plays the game the right way, supports each other, backs each other up, then we're going to be in the postseason. If we don't play hard on a daily basis and prepare to come out here and win, whether we win or not, we don't deserve to be in the postseason.
“At the end of the day, if we continue to do our thing, we're going to win ballgames and we're going to be in the postseason. If we're not in the postseason, at least we gave it our best.”