Indians turn to 2 position players to pitch 9th
Raburn, Murphy take the mound as Cubs score 7 runs in final frame
CLEVELAND -- As Wednesday's game against the Cubs began to unravel, Indians manager Terry Francona was forced to balance between navigating his way through the rest of the game and planning ahead.
That approach led to unusual circumstances in the ninth inning, when Cleveland used a pair of outfielders -- Ryan Raburn and David Murphy -- as pitchers to close out a 17-0 rout at the hands of the Cubs. For eight innings, it was a forgettable game for the Indians. For the final frame, the Tribe's players got to salvage a rough night with some smiles.
"You never want to be in a position where a position player has to come in the game," Murphy said. "If it does happen, you try to enjoy it and make the most of it. You play this game long enough, things like this will happen. You get a smile about something like that."
The Indians (30-34) would rather remember that aspect of the final frame than focus too much on the fact that they suffered the most lopsided shutout defeat in the history of Interleague Play. The previous record was held by the A's, who blew out the Giants with a 16-0 romp on June 26, 2005.
Before the ninth inning on Wednesday, Cleveland was trailing 10-0 following an overwhelming showing by the Cubs between the second and third innings. A missed-catch error by rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor with two outs in the ninth inning helped pave the way for a seven-run burst by Chicago, which capped off its rout with a grand slam from Kris Bryant.
Bryant's monstrous blast -- one that cleared the first row of bushes behind Progressive Field's center-field wall -- came against a 78-mph "fastball" from Murphy. The outfielder-turned-pitcher was a good sport about the tape-measure shot following the loss.
"I was going to make a joke that he's on my fantasy team," Murphy said of Bryant. "No, I don't have a fantasy team. I think it was a fastball, belt high and it split the plate."
The groundwork for Cleveland's ninth-inning was laid by an off night from starter Shaun Marcum.
Marcum lasted only two innings and 54 pitches, surrendering six runs on six hits in the second before hitting the showers. That put an early strain on the bullpen, which saw six of its seven arms called into duty through the eighth inning. In the sixth, Francona informed Raburn -- previously used as a pitcher on Aug. 8, 2013, against Detroit -- that he would likely enter the game.
Francona wanted to keep right-hander Zach McAllister, who can log multiple innings, fresh for Thursday's game.
"We wanted to try to stay away from Zach," Francona explained. "Hopefully, regardless of what the score was today, we start tomorrow fresh. It's still not a lot of fun to [use position players]."
Raburn entered in the ninth inning and walked Chris Coghlan, while sitting around 83-84 mph with his pitches. Cleveland's veteran utility man topped out at 88 mph against Cubs rookie Kyle Schwarber, who eventually came through with an infield hit. Raburn managed to retire two batters, but the right-hander was pulled from the game with a 2-0 count to David Ross.
Francona noted that Raburn's arm got a little "cranky" during the appearance.
"That's the last thing we want to happen," Francona said. "What I worry about is someone getting hurt. By that point, the game is out of [reach]. Whether they score two or three or none, you want somebody to throw strikes and not get hurt."
That is when Francona motioned for Murphy, who jogged from left field to the mound like a kid might in a Little League game. Murphy previously worked as a pitcher on June 4, 2013, when he played for the Rangers. The outfielder is able to throw in the 79-80 mph range and even features a knuckleball.
"I saw the pitch count start to go up and I was kinda looking in the dugout," Murphy said with a smile. "I was going to point to myself like, 'Hey, I want to go in.' I was kind of pumped when I got the call. I thought I was going to be out of there in one pitch."
Instead, Lindor missed a popup off the bat of Ross in shallow center field for an error. Murphy then got to show off his knuckler to Addison Russell, who watched the 69-mph pitch flutter into the dirt. Russell singled home a run, Dexter Fowler drew a walk, Mike Baxter was hit by a pitch from Murphy with the bases loaded and then Bryant delivered his slam.
"They knew I wanted to be in there a little bit longer, so they dropped the ball for me," Murphy quipped. "So, I was able to enjoy myself a little bit longer and give up a few missiles."
Kidding aside, Murphy was happy a rough night for the Tribe ended with a little fun.
"It is a frustrating game, but it happens," Murphy said. "We just flat out got beat today and got beat bad. It happens."