Sunday afternoon in front of 3,000+ frigid, committed supporters, the Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh Pirates) collected a late-inning, come-from-behind, rubber-match victory in the 2018 opening series against the Columbus Clippers (Cleveland Indians), by a margin of 5-3. The game miraculously– and graciously at 40 degrees– concluded in under 3 hours despite 27 total hits. Each of the day’s 18 batters recording at least one hit.
Despite baseball’s beckoning of an era valuing such advanced technological statistical metrics not limited to exit velocity and launch angle, in an increasingly power driven major league system, none of Sunday’s 27 hits were courtesy of the long ball. Left fielder Jordan Luplow delivered a 2 RBI base hit in the bottom of the 7th to give reliever Kyle Crick the win.
The Clippers, resting experienced former big leaguers Mike Napoli and Adam Rosales, batted 2-12 with runners in scoring position (.167) and leaving 13 men on base, while Indianapolis hit 3-13, stranding 9. Both totals substantially lower than the major league average of .242 to date. A pitching coach’s dream and hitting coach’s nightmare, likely attributed to a combination of early season cold bats.
The Indians bullpen produced a solid outing behind Allis, Wisconsin native (Milwaukee area) starter Alex McRae who labored through 3-2/3 in his first AAA start, walking two, striking out five, and getting his way out of a jam in the third. Tanner Anderson, who struggled in the opening game of the series, delivered a bounce back performance going without conceding up an earned run over 2-1/3. The 6’7″ minor league journeyman Johnny Hellwig produced a three-up, three-down top of the ninth to gather his first save since September 3rd, 2010, with his fastball topping off at 99 on the gun.
Indians veteran catcher and Yale alum Ryan Lavarnway (most memorably with the Red Sox from 2011-14) went 3-4 at the dish with a double and an RBI, adding an exceptional tag after an off-line throw to retire what would have been the tying run at the plate, redeeming himself from an earlier error collecting a throw on a similar play. There were moments early in the game where Lavarnway motioned to McRae, after pitches missing the zone, that he was dealing with a mechanical issue in opening his shoulders early on his delivery, potentially a factor in McRae’s early struggles with command and falling behind Clipper hitters. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on whether the battery mates stay paired for McRae’s next outing, and if the 25-year-old pitcher can diminish his WHIP while recording a higher strike rate.
If this game serves as any indication of what to expect from Indianapolis’ season, we can expect Esposito’s team to put the ball in play. The team amassed a total of 19 runs on 34 hits while limiting their strikeouts to 15 over the course of the series.
The Indians, likely welcoming back top Pirates prospect Austin Meadows (drafted 1st round, 2013) to the lineup, will begin a three game series tonight, hosting the Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers).”
By Mike Croce