Indians Clinch IL West Pennant; Irwin Strikes Out 9
Indianapolis Indians 6, Louisville Bats 1
The champagne is flowing in the Indianapolis Indians clubhouse! The Indians have clinched the International League Western Division pennant tonight at Victory Field. The Indians defeated the Louisville Bats, which decreased their magic number from 2 to 1. Then, about 15 minutes after the Indians’ game was over, the Toledo Mud Hens beat the Columbus Clippers 10 – 3, to remove that last “1” from their magic number. (The Indians are 12 games ahead of the 2nd place Clippers with 11 games left to play.) The last time the Indians won the division title was back in 2000.
The Bats started the game by giving the Indians something to worry about. With Phil Irwin making his second start for the Indians, Louisville lead-off batter Willie Harris opened the game with a walk. Irwin got a pop out and a strikeout, then CF Denis Phipps smacked a hard grounder into the hole between first and second. Tribe 2B Anderson Hernandez made a diving stop to keep the ball from going into the outfield, but he had no play, and the Bats had runners on first and second. RF Felix Perez followed with a line drive single into left field, and Harris raced around from second base to score, giving Louisville a 1-0 lead.
It would turn out to be the only lead the Bats would have during the game, and it didn’t last long. Tribe lead-off batter SS Chase d’Arnaud worked a full count, then deposited a home run into the grass berm behind the left-center field wall. Tie score, 1-1.
The score remained tied for the next 4.5 innings. Bats’ starter Todd Redmond retired the next six batters after d’Arnaud’s homer. RF Eric Fryer singled on a sharp grounder to second. Phil Irwin dropped down a sacrifice bunt, which was fielded by 1B Mike Costanzo. Costanzo thought he could make the out at second base, but his throw was not in time to beat the sliding Fryer, and both runners were safe. They got no further, though, as a line drive and a double play ended the inning. LF Brandon Boggs led off the 5th with a single, but was erased when RF Felix made a surprising catch of Fryer’s fly ball and doubled Boggs off first base.
Irwin was also keeping the Bats scoreless, though he seemed to be having intermittent control problems. Crazy base running by the Bats got Irwin out of trouble in the 2nd inning. 3B Chris Valaika led off with a double down the right field line and into the visitors’ bullpen. C Corky Miller grounded back to the mound, where Irwin scooped it up and turned to see if he could make the out on the lead runner Valaika. Valaika, who didn’t have to leave second base, did leave the base and did it late. When Irwin had turned around, he found Valaika half way between second and third bases, and stopped in his tracks. Irwin charged at him, then threw to SS d’Arnaud, who relayed to 3B Hague, who made the tag out. That left Miller on first. Redmond was up next, and with one out, a bunt was still in order. However, one of the Bats missed a sign, because Miller, who is not a fast runner, took off for second base while Redmond swung at strike two. C Tony Sanchez fired to d’Arnaud covering second base. When Miller realized that things were not going as he’d expected, he also stopped in his tracks, about 8 feet from the second base bag. D’Arnaud looked a bit puzzled, but he took the few steps necessary to make the tag out on Miller. One more pitch to Redmond was strike three ending the inning.
Irwin scattered two hits over the next four innings — both were doubles to Willie Harris. A wild pitch moved Harris to third base in the 3rd, but neither time could he get around to score. Irwin also struck out 5 batters in those four innings. That gave him a total of 9 strikeouts over his 6 innings, with one run on 5 hits and one walk. He threw 95 pitches, (66 strikes). In his first appearance with the Indians, Irwin pitched 5 innings and allowed 2 runs on 5 hits, with 2 walks and 8 strike outs.
The Tribe broke the tie in the bottom of the 6th. With one out, d’Arnaud lined a single into right field. Anderson Hernandez tapped back to the mound, where Redmond made the scoop, but then fired wide to first base. As the ball headed toward the outfield end of the visitor’s dugout, Hernandez was safe at first and d’Arnaud reached second base. Putting the speedy d’Arnaud on second base meant that he was easily able to score when Hague grounded sharply into left field. The Indians had a 2-1 lead.
The next inning brought the Indians 3 insurance runs off the rehabbing Bats’ reliever Bill Bray. Boggs led off with a walk, and he scored from first base when Sanchez slammed a double off the upper part of the right-center field wall. Bray walked pinch-hitter Jose Morales on 4 pitches, then loaded the bases when he also walked d’Arnaud. Hernandez grounded to second base, for what should have been an inning-ending double play. D’Arnaud was forced out at second, but SS Henry Rodriguez’s throw to first was wide. Hernandez was safe at first, while Sanchez and Morales scored, for a 5-1 lead.
Sanchez also drove in the final Indians’ run in the 8th. Hague led off with a grounder through the hole and into left field. McPherson was walked, and when Boggs flied out, Hague tagged up and advanced to third base. Sanchez slipped a grounder under SS Rodriguez’s glove, and Hague scored from third, for a 6-1 lead.
Logan Kensing pitched the 7th inning in relief of Irwin. He gave up a walk, and got three ground outs. Justin Wilson pitched the 8th inning, for his first Indians’ appearance in relief. Wilson gave up a single and a walk, but kept the Bats scoreless.
Tim Wood pitched the 9th, partly in recognition of his excellent relief work this season. Wood got the first out, then gave up a single to Valaika and walked Miller and pinch-hitter Cody Puckett to load the bases. Those three Bats stayed on the bases, as Wood settled down and struck out Harris, then got Rodriguez to fly out to Presley to end the game.
After the post-game interviews, the final half-inning of the Columbus-Toledo game radio feed was broadcast over the Victory Field PA system. It was a quick bottom of the 9th in Columbus, and the Indians’ celebration could begin.
Irwin earned his first AAA win. The Indians’ batters posted 8 hits, with Chase d’Arnaud, Matt Hague, and Tony Sanchez knocking 2 hits each. Sanchez also had 2 RBI.
The Indians and Bats wrap up this series tomorrow, with the Indians hoping for a sweep. The two teams meet again in the final two games of the season.
Indians’ Hitting Gem of the Game: Matt Hague’s RBI single in the 6th, which drove in Chase d’Arnaud with the go-ahead run. Hague took three balls, then fouled off 6 pitches before smacking the single. D’Arnaud’s two hits resulted in two runs — a homer and a single. Tony Sanchez’s two hits drove in two runs, a single and a double.
Indians’ Defensive Gem of the Game: In the top of the 1st, Henry Rodriguez lifted a short twisting pop fly that headed toward second base, then kept drifting back into center field. Anderson Hernandez chased after the ball, going back and to his right. He made a twisting over-the-shoulder catch in short center field for the out. It was even more impressive when you know that Hernandez sat out the past week or so with pain and tightness in his back.