Brantley rallies Tribe to doubleheader split
Two-run single in ninth inning erases deficit; Aviles hits two-run homer
OAKLAND -- Baseball has a funny way of giving players a second chance. Michael Brantley got his in the ninth inning on Wednesday night, when the Indians were staring down a discouraging sweep at the hands of the A's in a split doubleheader.
It was Brantley who was charged with an error in the outfield two innings earlier, paving the way for an Oakland run and putting Cleveland in line for a loss at the end of a long day at the Coliseum. Then, it was Brantley who ripped a pitch from A's closer Jim Johnson into right field in the ninth, delivering a two-run single to help send the Tribe to a 6-4 victory.
"It's just a never-die attitude. Never quit," Brantley said. "We're always picking each other up and always fighting until the end. What we did tonight was fun."
What Cleveland did was finish with a split of the first day-night doubleheader in Coliseum history, even though starters Corey Kluber (Game 1) and Zach McAllister (Game 2) combined for 163 pitches and eight runs allowed in only 7 1/3 innings. The bullpen picked up much of the slack and the offense found a way to salvage a win of the three-game series with the ninth-inning rally.
Including Monday's Opening Day victory over Oakland, the Indians scored six of their nine runs in the ninth inning, tallying at least one run in the final frame in each game. In Wednesday's twin bill -- made necessary when Tuesday's night game was rained out -- Indians manager Terry Francona used all 13 of his position players and eight relievers.
Cleveland needed them all.
"That's really gratifying," Francona said. "That's really a team win."
Next up for the Indians is Friday's home opener against the Twins.
"Things seem bigger at the beginning of the year, but it's a great way to go home," Francona said. "It's going to be a late night, or an early morning -- however you want to put it -- and that would've been a long day today to leave with nothing to show for it."
Featuring spotty fastball command, McAllister labored through 36 pitches in the first inning and was chased from the contest in the fourth after surrendering three runs on six hits. The A's struck for a pair of runs in the first inning (Jed Lowrie and Yoenis Cespedes each had an RBI) and came through with one more on a Sam Fuld single in the fourth.
It was a back-and-forth battle from there.
Tribe second baseman Mike Aviles launched a two-run home run off Oakland right-hander Josh Lindblom (two runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings) in the fourth inning to pull the game into a 2-2 deadlock, but the A's quickly regained the lead. In the seventh inning, Brantley used a run-scoring groundout to knot things up, 3-3, but some miscommunication in the outfield in the home half put Oakland on top again.
"It just goes to show you, man, how gritty and scrappy this squad is," Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. "Down early, come back, get the lead, lose the lead, get the lead again, lose the lead. We just kept fighting, man."
With one out in the seventh inning, Josh Donaldson lifted a pitch from Indians reliever Bryan Shaw to deep left-center field. Brantley glided over from center and Ryan Raburn tracked down the ball from left, closing in on one another as the ball descended. Brantley appeared to call Raburn off, but the pair of outfielders collided and the baseball dropped to the grass.
Two batters later, Brandon Moss pulled a pitch from Shaw into shallow right field, where Aviles gloved the ball and tried to relay the ball to the pitcher at first base. Shaw misplayed the catch, Moss was credited with a base hit and Donaldson scored easily from third to put the Indians behind, 4-3.
"They both called it at the same time," Francona said. "Probably the most conscientious guy on the field is kicking himself."
For Brantley, the mishap in the outfield snapped his errorless streak at 247 games, which is a franchise record for an outfielder. The former record of 212 games, which was held by Indians great Rocky Colavito, was broken by Brantley last season.
"That's an indidual goal," Brantley said of the streak. "We don't teach individual goals around here. It's all about the team effort."
The Indians certainly had that in the ninth inning.
Clinging to a 4-3 advantage, Oakland turned the game over to Johnson, who allowed two runs and took the loss against Cleveland on Monday. The Tribe has tormented the right-hander over his career, during which he has posted a 7.94 ERA with 15 runs yielded on 27 hits in 17 appearances (17 innings) against the club.
"I don't know. I mean, trust me, I left everything I had out there," Johnson said, "and sometimes you don't have answers. The only thing I can do is just keep trying to improve every time I go out and correct this as quickly as possible."
Raburn ignited the rally with a leadoff single and Swisher followed with a base hit of his own. Jason Kipnis was unable to get a sacrifice bunt down, but he fought through his at-bat and reached on a fielder's choice groundout. After Kipnis stole second base, Carlos Santana drew a walk to load the bases for Brantley.
"My team did a great job of just getting on base," Brantley said. "I'm up in that situation, it's a big situation, but it doesn't happen without the guys in front of us getting on."
Brantley pulled a pitch from Johnson, two runs scored and the Indians had their lead. For good measure, David Murphy contributed a sacrifice fly to pad Cleveland's cushion, and make things a little easier for closer John Axford to nail down his second save in as many chances.
Swisher was ecstatic to see Brantley deliver the decisive blow.
"You always get the redemption," Swisher beamed. "Dr. Smooth, man, he's got one of the best swings in the game."