Sunday, September 9, 2007

Tribe Hits, Then Splits

Aaron Laffey overcame a shaky start on Sunday to hold off Anaheim and improve to 3-1 on the season. Laffey did his part by keeping any crooked numbers off the board, going 5 innings with 1 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, and 3 K. The Tribe offense provided plenty of aerial support, smacking Jered Weaver around the park before chasing him in the fifth. Jensen Lewis, Raffy Perez, and the Big Borowski combined for 4 scoreless innings to seal the win.

Aaron found himself in a few ugly jams tonight, but was able to keep his head straight and get the job done. After giving up a couple groundball singles in the first, Laffey nearly got out of the inning unscathed until Peralta drew Garko off the bag with a high throw. The play would have ended the inning, but instead a run scored.

Laffey faced runners in scoring position a couple more times, but induced a double play in the fourth and got an outstanding defensive play from Cabrera (is there any other kind with this kid?) in the fifth to neutralize the threat.

Laffey had some difficulty finding the strike zone early on. He kept trying to hit the outer edge of the plate, but failed to throw many of these pitches for strikes. It looked like he was afraid to go inside on the batters for some reason. Fortunately, Laffey was able to make the proper adjustments and looked solid in his last three innings.

The outside pitch he was missing the first two innings started to make some nasty cuts back into the plate, rendering it much more effective. When he was facing a right-handed batter, Laffey would throw with almost a sidearm action, causing the ball to streak in at a more horizontal angle. This made the pitch really hard to hit, since it would either run into the hands of the batter or curve just enough to hit the outer edge of the plate. Laffey was able to catch a few Angels staring at strike three with his funky fastball.

Joe Morgan (reviled as his comments are) said that the action on some of Laffey’s pitches reminded him of Randy Johnson. I normally either laugh or cringe at whatever Morgan has to say during a game, but this was an intriguing comparison. If Laffey could find a way put a little more zip on his fastball and (more importantly) master pitching inside to a batter, he would have an extremely nasty strikeout pitch. Obviously a bit of a stretch, but I can see at least some potential in regard to the two pitchers’ styles.

The offense did a great job of adjusting to Angels phenom Jered Weaver, tagging him for 6 ER on 9 hits over 5 innings. Weaver was looking pretty filthy over his first three innings, holding the Tribe to just one hit. The fourth inning started out with a beautiful sequence:

  • Sizemore bunts for a single.
  • Sizemore steals secondbase.
  • AstroCab smacks a groundball to the secondbaseman, who boots the ball out of his reach.
  • Sizemore scores from second standing up.

I lost track of how many times I’ve thought “Holy Crap, Grady can run fast” this season, but that was definitely one of those moments.

Cleveland had six base runners reach safely by the time the onslaught was over, including a majestic 3-run homer by Ryan Garko. Tribe batters camped out on Weaver’s off-speed pitches, collecting all their fourth inning hits on balls less than 90 mph. Wedge and Skinner’s aggression on the base paths helped add fuel to the Tribe’s big inning. They had Gutz (should have been safe, but over-slid the bag) and Grady steal second, then AstroCab go first to third on a single by Victor. Grady and AstroCab eventually came around to score.

Cleveland is 12-3 in their last 15 games and is 5-2 on their current 10 game road trip. The final stop of the road trip is Chicago before the Jake opens up a nice 9-game homestand, featuring the season finale with Detroit.

On C.C.

We haven't won the World Series in more than 50 years. I want a ring.
-Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia, replying to a question about his Cy Young candidacy

Everybody knows how good Sabathia has been this season. Just in case you forgot though, he’s 17-7 with 185 Ks, a 3.15 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP, and 4 complete games. The way that C.C. has truly embraced his ace designation and matured into the team’s most vocal leader is every bit as impressive. It’s kind of weird talking about how a guy who’s several years my senior has matured, but I remember when Sabathia would still get visibly rattled on the mound if the game wasn’t going so smoothly. Sabathia seemed to have gotten the better of his temper (and the control problems sometimes associated with it) last season. In 2007, Sabathia’s evolution as a team leader is complete. You can tell by the way he carries himself, the way he addresses the media, and the way other players put their faith in him every time he takes the field.

The quote above was yet another bold statement by C.C. in support of his team. Rather than just stopping at, “I want a ring,” C.C. showed he truly understands the significance of the Indians to its fans. He understands the pain and expectations that go along with a 50 year championship drought. Some may think I’m reading too much into one sound bite, but something about the quote really struck a chord with me.

It’s not the first time a player has made such a claim about his team. That's why I’m not just looking at a single quote, but at the body of work backing it up. If Sabathia feels a strong enough connection to Cleveland to realize he’d be winning a ring not just for himself, but for an entire city and beyond, maybe he will choose to stay. Sabathia’s attitude seems to indicate he is dedicated to this team for the long term (at least in spiritual, if not monetary terms) and a playoff berth will likely move him a big step forward in coming to terms on a contract extension.

Fun Fact:

Victor Martinez is 3rd in the American League with a 30% caught stealing percentage in 2007. This is more than just a minor improvement over his 15% caught stealing in 2006, it’s a complete overhaul. While Victor was supposedly battling a sore shoulder and injured toe in 2006, it’s been well advertised that Vic has been working overtime to fix his defensive mechanics. It looks like Victor’s efforts on his footwork and throwing have finally paid off.

No comments: