All it took for the Indians to get the car out of the ditch was six games against two of the three best teams in the American League.
Why didn’t somebody figure this out sooner?
So the homestand that was supposed to throw dirt on the coffin is instead applying the paddles of life to the season.
Saturday’s 8-4 kicking of the Yankee doodle caboodle featured more good pitching, more prodigious slugging and more of All-Star Game-bound Brad Hand and his tiny little friend, that 0.98 ERA.
In the last 13 days the Indians are 6-2 against New York, Minnesota and Boston. For the season overall, the local nine is 9-6 against the Yankees, Twins, Red Sox and Astros — and 24-25 against everyone else.
This, of course, makes no sense at all. This, of course, is why we love baseball.
The six-game homestand against first-place Minnesota and first-place New York that will, unfortunately, end today, has turned into a baseball Mardi Gras — and the stars have been the Indians’ non-stars, starting with the Bambino himself: Roberto Perez.
The artist formerly known as Yan Gomes’ backup has already hit over five times as many home runs this year (11) as he had last year (two). The man who didn’t reach double figures in RBIs last year until September has 25 this year, more than any Indian not named Carlos Santana.
“I’m not trying to hit home runs. I’m just trying to have good at-bats,” Perez said. “It’s nice being able to play every day, knowing if I go 0-for-4 I’m confident I’ll be in there the next day.”
Boom-Boom Perez came within 3 inches of walloping two homers Saturday. Instead, he had to settle for one homer, that was last seen sailing toward Sandusky, and a double off the top of the left-field wall, that missed being a homer by the width of the baseball.
“He’s swinging the bat really well, staying on the ball much better,” said manager Terry Francona, who on Saturday — how crazy would this have seemed last year? — used Perez as the designated hitter. It was the first time in Perez’s career he started a game as the designated hitter.
Perez responded by hitting, as designated. He has slugged home runs in four consecutive games. In his last five games he is 6-for-15 (.400), and four of the six hits are home runs.
Right now, everything is going right for the Indians. That’s a refreshing change from most of this season when everything seemed to be going wrong.
Consider the starting pitching. Applaud the starting pitching. The Indians have gone 4-1 on this homestand hoedown against two first-place teams. They’ve done that without any contributions at all from their top four starting pitchers, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger.
Bauer pitched horribly in the one loss; the other three starters are on the injured list.
Hey, no problem.
In three of the four homestand wins, starters Shane Bieber, Adam Plutko and Zach Plesac combined for a record of 3-0 and a 2.70 ERA — all of that coming against the first-place teams in the AL Central and the AL East.
The Indians broke open Saturday’s game, and ruined former Indian CC Sabathia’s final appearance in his former home ballpark, in the sixth inning. With the Indians leading 4-2, Perez and Kevin Plawecki combined for 840 feet worth of home runs. Perez launched a 447-foot missile, and two batters later Plawecki Pla-whackied a 393-foot beauty.
Bieber will return to the mound today as the Indians, incredibly as it would have seemed a week ago, will attempt to complete a three-game sweep of the Yankees’ JVs. But don’t laugh. Most of the big-ticket Bombers are injured, but the understudies pitched and slugged their way to the top of the rugged AL East.
After the series finale with the Yankees and two games against the Reds, the Indians will hit the road for three games in Detroit and four in Texas. Clevinger is one more rehab start away from rejoining the rotation. He’s been gone so long that it’s easy to forget how Klubery he was before being sidelined with an upper back strain: In two starts he pitched 12 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and averaging 16.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
Kluber and Carrasco don’t figure to be back anytime soon. But the depth of the rotation, a strength at the start of the season, is paying off now. Plesac, in particular, has been an out-of-nowhere contributor in his three starts, suggesting that maybe the Indians’ luck is turning.
Then there’s the bullpen that was expected to be an open wound at the start of the season. But 64 games into it, the Indians’ 3.29 bullpen ERA is the best in the league.
Are they going to win their division? Probably not. But the games are interesting again.
Think baby steps.