The Indians’ 14-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history and the longest in the majors since 2013, came to an end Saturday afternoon when Cleveland lost to the Blue Jays, 9–6, in Toronto. That result wasn’t unexpected, as Cleveland had burned Saturday’s scheduled starter, Trevor Bauer, in Friday’s 19-inning win. What was unexpected was that the Indians would lose despite one of their players hitting for the cycle and with the turning point in the game being the inexplicable replay overturn of a play at the plate with the game tied in the eighth inning.
Cleveland’s plan for replacing Bauer on Saturday proved to be a combination of a bullpen game and the promotion of a minor league starter. Zach McAllister, who threw 27 pitches in his lone inning of work on Friday, drew the start but lasted just one inning. Lefty Shawn Morimando, called up from Double A, ate 3 2/3 innings in the middle of the game in his major league debut. To make room for Morimando on the roster, Cleveland designated Michael Martinez for assignment and played the game with a two-man bench.
Staked to a 1–0 lead thanks to Rajai Davis’s leadoff home run, McAllister ran into immediate trouble, hitting Ezequiel Carrera with his first pitch then, after striking out Devon Travis, walking Josh Donaldson and giving up a three-run bomb to Edwin Encarnacion. Jeff Manship fared better working a scoreless second. Davis drove in another run in the third with an RBI triple that skipped past a diving Carrera in right field. Then Morimando entered in the third. Friday night’s hero, Carlos Santana, tied the game with a homer off Toronto starter Marco Estrada in the fourth, but Morimando gave the lead back on a two-run Troy Tulowitzki home run in the fifth.
Undeterred, the relentless Cleveland offense clamored back, scoring one in the sixth, when reliever Joe Biagini loaded the bases then hit Juan Uribe with a pitch, and two in the seventh against Drew Hutchison, who had been called up to add depth to Toronto’s bullpen after they had resorted to using two infielders on the mound on Friday. That seventh inning rally was started by a one-out double by Davis, who, for those keeping track, had by that point homered, tripled and doubled.
Those two seventh-inning runs gave Cleveland a 6–5 lead, but Dan Otero blew that lead on his very first pitch in the bottom of the seventh, which was turned around for a towering home run by Josh Donaldson. That 6–6 tie lasted into the bottom of the eighth, which is when the controversial replay took place.
With one out in the bottom of the eight, Otero walked Carrera on four pitches and was replaced by Tommy Hunter. On his first two pitches of the game, Hunter gave up singles to Travis, pushing Carrera to second, and Donaldson. Donaldson’s single was a flare to shallow center, but it bounced high, forcing centerfielder Tyler Naquin to leap to catch it. Seeing that, Blue Jays’ third base coach Luis Rivera waved Carrera home. Naquin recovered quickly and made a strong throw on the fly to catcher Chris Gimenez, which Gimenez caught in the right-handed batter’s box, making the catch and sweeping tag on Carrera in one motion as Carrera dove head-first across the plate. Home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn, who had positioned himself perfectly in front of the plate with his back to the infield, called Cabrera out, but the play was so close and so important to the outcome of the game, that a replay was inevitable.
After a nearly three-minute review, the call was overturned and Carrera called safe with the go-ahead run. The official explanation from the replay center in New York was that Carrera touched the plate before Gimenez made the tag. All photographic evidence suggests that was not the case, such as this still I captured from the replay on the Blue Jays’ broadcast (via MLB.tv):
And this image by Toronto photographer John Lott, a different angle of the same moment, which has been making the rounds on Twitter:
The only possible way Carrera could have been safe was if Gimenez missed the tag, but the replay explanation contained no mention of Gimenez missing the tag and none of the replay angles I saw showed any space between Gimenez’s glove and Carrera’s right ankle. At best the replay was inconclusive on the tag, which should have resulted in the call on the field being upheld given that Carerra clearly did not beat the tag, if it happened.
What’s most perplexing about that ruling is that I often find myself frustrated by the replay umpires’ reluctance to overturn plays on anything less than overwhelming evidence that the call on the field was wrong. That was not the case here. There was no evidence at all that the call on the field was wrong, yet Reyburn’s call was overturned on arguably the most important play of the game.
Indians manager Terry Francona concurred. “I don’t know how you can overrule that,” he said after the game. “I couldn’t tell if he’s safe or out ... they keep telling us it has to be conclusive.”
For his part, Gimenez expressed some concern about whether or not he tagged Carrera but said “I definitely thought I had him on the leg,” and that the Indians replay coordinator told him he did make the tag. “The explanation they gave us was that his arm got in there before I tagged him,” Gimenez said. “I don’t necessarily think that was the case.”
The overturned call not only gave Toronto the lead, but gave the Jays an extra out in the inning. Hunter rallied to strike out Encarnacion with what otherwise would have been the third out of the inning, but with the inning extended, Michael Saunders followed with a double that drove home both Travis and Donaldson, pushing the Toronto lead to 9–6.
Given how overextended their bullpen had become, there was no guarantee that the Indians would have extended their streak even if the correct ruling was made on Carrera. After all, they would have been no better than tied on the road against a team that had already hit three home runs on the day against Cleveland’s already overextended bullpen. Still, it’s extremely frustrating to see a ruling so clearly bungled despite the use of a system designed to avoid exactly such bungling. Given the precedent of overturned calls requiring clear and convincing evidence, Toronto couldn’t have complained had the ruling been upheld, even if they believed that Gimenez had missed the tag, but the Indians have a significant gripe about it having been overturned.
Despite that fiasco, Davis singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth to complete his reverse-order cycle, the first cycle by a Cleveland hitter since Travis Hafner’s in August 2003 and just the second cycle in the major leagues this season. He then added a stolen base for good measure, becoming just the seventh hitter this century to add a stolen base to a cycle, the last being Shin-Soo Choo last July. However, he was stranded at second base as Roberto Osuna nailed down the win for Toronto. Curiously, the last time a player hit for the cycle was when Freddie Freeman did so on June 15, which was also the last day that Cleveland lost a game.
One other note on this game—Toronto starter Estrada, who has battled a bad back this season, might not have taken the ball if not for Friday’s 19-inning game. He pitched five innings, striking out seven and throwing 96 pitches, but was in significant pain and his next turn is in doubt. “I’m surprised I was able to even get through five,” he said after the game. Estrada will undergo tests on his back, with Toronto retaining Hutchison as a potential replacement in the rotation should Estrada require a disabled list stint. Given that he has been the Jays’ best pitcher thus far this season, posting a 2.93 ERA in 104 1/3 innings including Saturday’s outing, any extended absence could be a significant blow for Toronto, which is just 5–8 over the last two weeks despite Saturday’s win and desperately trying to hang in the very tight American League wild-card race.