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Verducci: Can Indians bring a championship to Cleveland?
1:29 | MLB
Verducci: Can Indians bring a championship to Cleveland?
Saturday July 2nd, 2016

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It took 19 innings and their opponent sending two position players to the mound, but the Cleveland Indians ultimately outlasted the Blue Jays Friday afternoon to set a franchise record with their 14th straight win, a 2–1 victory in Toronto on Canada Day. The game, which was decided by a Carlos Santana home run off infielder Darwin Barney in the top of the 19th, was the longest in the major leagues this season, tied the Blue Jays’ franchise record for longest game by innings and was the longest played by Cleveland in 23 years.

The game started ominously for Toronto as the top three men in its order struck out looking against Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin. Third-place hitter Edwin​ Encarnacion took exception to his strike-three call from home-plate umpire Vic Carpazza (the pitch, which came on a full count, was outside) and earned a quick ejection, prompting his manager, John Gibbons to take up the argument and get run, as well. Little did Encarnacion and Gibbons know that they had picked the best possible game from which to be ejected.

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Both teams managed just a single run in regulation, Cleveland scoring first when Carlos Santana led off the third inning with a double and scored on Jason Kipnis’s subsequent single. Toronto didn’t answer until the sixth, when Justin Smoak went with a Tomlin cutter off the outside corner and hit it out to leftfield for a game-tying home run.

Both starting pitchers, Tomlin and Toronto’s Marcus Stroman, handed the ball to the bullpens in the seventh. Tomlin did so after completing the sixth. Stroman did so after a Smoak error on a hard chopper by Rajai Davis and a walk to Santana loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh. DeMarlo Hale brought in Brett Cecil, who got fellow lefty Kipnis to fly out to end that threat, but replaced him with right-hander Jason Grilli to start the eighth with two switch-hitters and righty Mike Napoli due up. The maneuvers all worked in the moment, Grilli pitched a perfect inning, but using Cecil for just one batter would prove to be a costly waste of resources as the game dragged on hours later.

Neither team got another runner as far as third base until the 11th inning. In that inning, Toronto’s Devon Travis, who replaced Encarnacion at designated hitter, led off against Zach McAllister with a walk then, with two outs, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch on consecutive offerings from McAllister, who then walked Troy Tulowitzki on his next pitch to put runners on the corners for Smoak. However, Smoak fouled out on a 3–1 count to send the game to the 12th.

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Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin was ejected after striking out on a check swing to end the 13th, allowing 13 innings of questionable strike calls to boil over, then doing his best George Brett imitation after Carapazza tossed him. In the top of the 14th, Drew Storen replaced Jesse Chavez, who had thrown three perfect innings for Toronto, and the Indians got their first runner to third since the top of the seventh. Lonnie Chisenhall led off with a single and moved up on a pair of groundouts, but he, too, was stranded when Storen got Davis to ground out, as well.

With Joba Chamberlain taking over on the hill for Cleveland, Troy Tulowitzki led of the bottom of the 14th with Toronto’s first hit since the sixth inning. Kevin Pillar replaced Tulowitzki at first base via a pair of fielder’s choices and went to third on a double by second baseman Darwin Barney, but was stranded there when Chamberlain got Josh Donaldson to ground out to Napoli at first base to end the threat.

Cleveland again threatened against Storen in the top of the 15th when a one-out single by Francisco Lindor sent Kipnis, who had walked, to third, but Hale brought in Bo Schultz, the last man in his bullpen, to pitch to Napoli, resulting in an inning-ending, around-the-horn double play.

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It was at that point that Saturday’s scheduled Indians starter, Trevor Bauer, took over the game. The ninth Cleveland pitcher of the afternoon, Bauer would be the last, working five scoreless frames, allowing just two singles and three walks over that span. The Blue Jays did threaten again in the 16th, with a pair of infield singles, a passed ball and a stolen base by Pillar putting two men in scoring position with one out. However, Bauer got Barney to pop out and struck out Ezequiel Carrera looking to strand both runners.

With Toronto opting not to burn Saturday’s starter, Cy Young contender Marco Estrada, that failure loomed large. Schultz gave up singles to the first two men he faced in the 16th, putting runners on the corners with no one out, but wriggled out of the jam. He did that by getting Michael Martinez, who had pinch-hit for catcher Yan Gomes following Chisenhall’s leadoff single in the 14th with orders to bunt, to pop out, striking out centerfielder Tyler Naquin, and getting backup catcher Chris Gimenez to hit a sinking liner to Donaldson at third. Schultz worked around a two-out single in the 17th, but after throwing 48 pitches, his most since 2014, he was spent.

At that point, Hale went to his strong-armed infielders. First up was Ryan Goins, the last position player on the Jays’ bench. Goins last pitched in college, but hit 90 mph on the radar gun and showed off a solid mid-70s curve and high-70s changeup. Again, Cleveland put runners on the corners with no outs via a pair of singles. Again, the same three batters stranded both men. This time Martinez grounded into a drawn-in infield, which trapped Jose Ramirez in a run-down between home and third for the first out, with Chisenhall and Martinez moving up to third and second on the play. The Jays then had Goins intentionally walk Naquin to load the bases with one out, after which Goins got Gimenez to hit into an inning-ending double play on a 0–1 curveball.

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Next up was Darwin Barney, who grounded out with Junior Lake on second to end the 18th. Barney sat in the mid-80s with a four-seam fastball and a two-seamer that showed arm-side run and drop, but after working the count full against Carlos Santana, he gave up a home run to right-center that finally broke the stalemate. Barney then retired the heart of the Cleveland lineup in order, striking out Mike Napoli on a 78 mph curve ball, but the damage was done. Bauer retired the Jays in order in the bottom of the 19th, and the Indians won their 14th straight game.

That winning streak now stands as the longest in Indians history, breaking the mark of 13 set in 1942 and tied in 1951. It is also the longest winning streak by any major league team since the Braves won 14 in a row in July and August of 2013. With one more win, Cleveland will have the longest single-season winning streak in the majors since the Moneyball A’s 20-game streak in 2002. However, as high as the degree of difficulty was for the Indians' 14th win, it will be similarly high on Saturday given that they used their intended starter for that game, Bauer, for 83 pitches in this one.

With everyone in the Cleveland bullpen except closer Cody Allen appearing in Friday’s game, Cleveland’s options for Saturday’s start are limited. It could start Corey Kluber on three day’s rest, but with no more off days until the All-Star break, doing so would effectively require the Indians to start the remainder of their rotation on short rest. Far more likely is the use of a minor leaguer, which would require them to option Dan Otero (0.89 ERA in 27 games this season) to Triple A, as he is the only pitcher other than Allen and the five starters with an option remaining, and the team is already at a three-man bench. The Columbus Clippers starter who would be on regular rest on Saturday is lefty Ross Detwiler, but he was outrighted off the 40-man roster in early May and would thus require an additional roster move to take the start for Cleveland, a start his 4.72 ERA in 11 Triple A starts suggests he hasn’t earned. But the Indians may be required to make the move, regardless.

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The need to add a player to the 40-man roster opens up the possibility of bringing a pitcher in from outside the organization to make the start, but they’re unlikely to be able to do better than Detwiler on such short notice. Another option is to make Saturday a bullpen game, but that seems unlikely given that the bullpen badly needs a day off, particularly former starter McAllister, Tommy Hunter and Chamberlain, each of whom threw more than 25 pitches on Friday.

However it shakes out, Friday’s 19-inning win seems likely to stand as a signature moment for the 2016 Indians, who are now seven games up on the second-place Royals in the AL Central with the second-best record in the American League. Cleveland hasn’t won its division since 2007, when it fell one game shy of the pennant. To break that drought in the wake of the NBA’s Cavaliers breaking the city’s 52-year championship drought would make an already impressive year for Cleveland sports all the more special. Before they can do that, however, the Indians need to recover from Friday night’s victory.

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