It took the worst eighth inning in the history of eighth innings for the Indians to look like a functioning major league lineup Monday, but you take your gifts any way you can get them, and so the Indians did.
This wasn’t your standard eighth inning. This was the Battle of Thermopylae: a combined seven runs, four hits, five walks, two errors, six pitchers and 115 pitches, or so it seemed.
When the dust from the silliness had cleared, the Indians had their second win of the season, 5-3 over the Chicago White Sox.
Indians starter Mike Clevinger pitched seven scoreless innings on one hit, with 12 strikeouts — and was rewarded with a big fat no-decision. That may be a repeated refrain for Indians starting pitchers this season. The team’s offense remains a sputtering, coughing, wheezing jalopy, even when it’s scoring runs.
Like in the bottom of the eighth inning, after three Indians relievers turned a 1-0 Indians lead into a 3-1 Indians deficit.
Then the White Sox went to their bullpen, and the Indians went to their version of crazy. In the bottom of the eighth, the Indians sent 10 men to the plate, and the White Sox pitchers had no idea what to do with them.
It went something like this: walk, fly out, intentional walk, error, single, walk, walk, strikeout, strikeout. Two of the walks came with the bases loaded, and so did the error.
For much of the inning the Indians hitters didn’t do much more than stand there and allow themselves to be walked.
Hey, for an offense this inept, it’s a start.
The Indians came into their home opener following a dreadful offensive showing in losing two of three games in Minnesota in their season-opening series.
In that series Indians hitters did the near-impossible: they struck out 13 times in three consecutive games.
Kids: Do not try this at home.
As they took to the field for the 25th opening day in Progressive Field history, Indians hitters ranked last in the major leagues in batting average (.133), on-base percentage (.218), slugging (.189), OPS (.407) and runs scored (five), and first in yawns induced (countless).
By now Indians starting pitchers have gotten the message. Until further notice, they give up runs at their peril. The best approach is to try to pitch six strong innings and hope for a no-decision.
On Monday Clevinger did better than that, and was rewarded with, um, a no-decision. But it was a quality no-decision.
In his first start of the season, he dominated the White Sox, striking out the side in order in the first inning and striking out almost half of the batters he faced in the game (12 of 25). In his seven innings of work he didn’t go more than two batters without a strikeout.
He was Kluberesque, Baueresque or Clevingeresque. Take your pick.
For seven innings the White Sox were overmatched.
Unfortunately, so were the Indians.
Chicago starter Ivan Nova also pitched seven innings and was almost as good as Clevinger, holding the Indians’ lightweight lineup to one run.
That came in the sixth inning, when the MVP candidate formerly known as Jose Ramirez stirred to life and belted a one-out double, then scored on a single by Carlos Santana.
Clevinger did his Clevinger thing in the top of the seventh, striking out the last batter he faced, Yolmer Sanchez, on his 106th and final pitch of the game.
Clevinger pitched well enough to win, but he’ll have to settle for a no-decision because the Indians’ bullpen coughed up three runs in the eighth inning.
It was only when the White Sox’s imploding bullpen insisted that the Indians score four times in the bottom of the eighth that the Indians did — and pulled victory No.2 from the jaws of defeat No.3.
So they are 2-2, with a starting rotation that looks as overpowering as ever — and a lineup that’s as underwhelming as ever.
It didn’t take long for manager Terry Francona to shake up that shook-up lineup. After watching Tyler Naquin go 0-for-7 with six strikeouts while hitting in the No. 3 hole in Minnesota, Francona dropped the former No. 1 draft pick to the No. 8 spot Monday.
“I thought it would be a lift for him to be batting third, but he’s having some timing issues,” Francona said.
So the manager dropped Naquin down five spots in the order, hoping “to take some of the glare off him.”
It worked — sort of. Naquin went 1-for-3 with no strikeouts.
Think baby steps.
For Naquin, and for the Indians.
Outside of Clevinger being what Indians starters must be in all starts this year — sensational — the woeful offense remains woeful.
But it’s still early, and it’s still very cold.
But the Indians are 2-2.
Think baby steps.
- White Sox 8, Indians 3: Corey Kluber roughed up, and offense no help in loss
- Commentary: Tribe needs Jose Ramirez to start being Jose Ramirez
- Mike Clevinger brings the heat, averages 95 mph, strikes out career-high 12 in dominant debut
- Indians notes: Tribe bats silent during season-opening series in Minnesota
- Indians 5, White Sox 3: Tribe rallies by Chicago; Mike Clevinger dominates in debut
- Home opener firsts