The Indians pulled out a 5-2, extra-innings victory against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Monday afternoon, but they may not have had that opportunity if it wasn’t for newly acquired center fielder Myles Straw.
It was the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at two, and Bryan Shaw, who hasn’t been nearly as dominant in his last six trips to the rubber, was set to face Teoscar Hernández to open the frame. On the fourth consecutive cutter he saw, Hernández laced a 103.6 mph shot into the right-center gap that looked like it was going to result in extra bases.
“When it was hit, I said, ‘Oh [shoot],’ quietly,” Indians acting manager DeMarlo Hale said with a grin on his face. “But then when I picked him up, I saw him gaining, and what a catch.”
“I think he hit it like 103-point-something and like 20-something degrees. So you know, I'm into all those metrics and stuff,” Straw said. “Usually that's a pretty good chance of high off the wall or something close. You know, I'd like to always think I have a chance on a ball in the gap. … So I thought I had a good chance off the bat and sure enough I was able to get to it.”
Sure enough, he was. Despite it having an .830 expected batting average, Straw got in the way. He broke back toward the warning track in right-center field and made a sliding, over-the-shoulder snag for the first out of the inning.
“That was incredible,” said Cleveland starter Eli Morgan, who struck out nine in the opener. “That play by Straw was just big-time. Nice to be able to see something like that. He's done great in his first couple games with us. He already has a home run under his belt, has a web gem. It's been fun to watch.”
Straw has been on the Indians’ radar for over a year, largely because of his exceptional defense and elite speed. It’s taken him all of three games to put those two tools on display. And for an outfield that’s had to take a lot of risks -- like putting shortstop Amed Rosario in center, natural first baseman Josh Naylor in right, utility guy Mike Freeman in left or second baseman Jason Kipnis in center -- over the last few years, having a sound, natural center fielder is a welcoming sight.
“I mean, I’m gonna say this and I’m not knocking anyone in terms of who played outfield, but true center fielders make those kind of plays when you talk about true center fielders,” Hale said. “We have a few on this team. Like I said, I’m knocking no outfield position. All of them are tough and all of them warrant their own toughness and they’re individual plays. But true center fielders make those kind of plays.”
After Shaw showed his appreciation for the catch on the mound, he worked around a walk with two strikeouts to force extra innings. That’s when the Indians’ bats found some life.
Aside from Harold Ramirez’s and Oscar Mercado’s RBI singles in the third inning, Cleveland’s offense had been relatively quiet until the 10th. But Straw, who started the frame at second base, was able to advance to third on a wild pitch from a familiar face in Brad Hand, and was able to score effortlessly on a single by Rosario. José Ramírez provided some breathing room by launching a two-run blast, marking the 150th homer of his career.
“I was a little bit anxious at the beginning of the game,” José Ramírez said. “I was not swinging at pitches I should have been swinging at. In my at-bat against Brad Hand I was looking for a high pitch. Thank God that that happened. I hit through that high pitch and I was able to put the ball in play.”
That long ball assured that Straw’s defensive efforts weren’t for naught. In just three games with his new team, Straw already has a homer under his belt (after only hitting two in 98 games with Houston) and a potentially game-saving snag in center field. Which would he say was more enjoyable?
“Honestly, probably the catch,” Straw said. “It was a 2-2 game, to have a new pitcher, to do that for a new team, pitcher on the mound, I saw how pumped Shaw was and it fired me up out there a little bit. I know he appreciated that, especially with no outs. That was huge. That could have changed the game. To come back and win that game, we had some big swings by Rosario and Ramírez, and it's a good comeback win for us.”