Last Season Look-Back

[During the offseason, The Inside Pitch will provide a month-by-month look-back at the historic 2013 season. Beginning with a review of April this October, fans can relive each month, including the playoffs, leading up to Opening Day of the 2014 campaign.]

April in Review

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The Indianapolis Indians embarked upon the 2013 campaign in search of their first back-to-back International League West Division titles in franchise history, and first overall consecutive division crowns since 1994-95. The Indians, who finished with an incredible 89-55 record in 2012, were given a season’s window of 144 games to claim first place in the IL West and forever etch 2013 in the storied franchise’s record books.

Beginning with a stretch of 27 games in 27 days during April, there was little room for error.

And even less time to adjust.

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Unfortunately, two games and a lack-luster four combined runs later, the Tribe found themselves in an early 0-2 deficit with back-to-back home losses to Columbus to open the year. While the season was still very young, Manager Dean Treanor refused want to wait until he was forced to push the panic button.

The third-year Indians skipper called a team meeting to right the ship. His message to the players was simple;

Either hit the ball, or hit the bench.

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Led by future Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, Indianapolis’ offense backed its already tremendous pitching staff  to pace five straight wins, including two against Columbus and a three-game home sweep of the Toledo Mud Hens. The bounceback kept fans on the edge of their seats the entire way, and while four of the five victories were by just two runs or fewer, none was more thrilling than a 10th-inning walk-off against the ‘Hens on April 9.

After a solo homer from Mercer tied the score 2-2 in the seventh, the contest remained knotted until the Tribe immediately put a runner on second and third with no outs in the bottom of the 10th. Toledo then opted to issue an intentional walk that loaded the bases for Indians third baseman Jared Goedert.

Here’s what happened:

In between out-of-breath heaves from the celebratory dogpile, the walk-off hero credited the win to his teammates, rather than his own bat

“It was a great job by the three guys before me having quality at bats, getting on base,” Goedert said after the walkoff.

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“And right there (at the plate) I was just trying to get a pitch I could hit.”

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While clutch batting sparked Indianapolis’ early turnaround, pitching took center stage when the team hit the road for the season’s first three series away from the friendly confines of Victory Field.

In their first stop of the road trip, a trio of Tribe hurlers featuring spot starter Brooks Brown, long reliever Ryan Reid and closer Vic Black combined to one-hit the Clippers through 7.0 scoreless frames in the back end of a double header on April 13 at Columbus. The lockdown effort on the mound featured just a lone double off Brown and only one walk from Black as the three hurlers totaled 10 strikeouts while facing a mere three batters above the minimum in Indianapolis’ 5-0 shutout win.

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Brown, Reid and Black’s triumph halted a brief two-game skid and marked the second shutout win through the first 10 games of the season. It also began another impressive winning streak as the Tribe pulled off a thrilling come-from-behind win in Columbus on April 14, before traveling to Fifth Third Field to collect a second three-game sweep of the Toledo Mud Hens.

And thrilling may be an understatement for the dramatic finish at Huntington Park.

One day after shutting out the Clippers, Indianapolis found itself trailing 5-2 in the seventh inning with eventual Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber in control on the mound. The right-hander had fanned eight batters while limited the visiting squad to just six base knocks through the first 19 outs when the Indians finally broke through his pitching arsenal.

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A one-out single from Tony Sanchez quickly turned into a bases-loaded opportunity.

One RBI walk later and the Tribe pulled within 5-3.

A costly, two-run error then scored Ivan DeJesus and Oscar Tejeda to knot the contest 5-5.

And that’s when things began to snowball.

Having finally pushed across the tying run with one out in the top of the seventh, the Indians erupted for six more runs on five straight hits to cap off their season-high nine-run inning and jump out to an insurmountable 11-5 advantage.

Though the Clippers ultimately scored a pair of runs over the final two frames, slugger Brett Carroll helped his team keep the foot on the gas by smashing a solo homer that put the exclamation mark on Indianapolis’ 12-7 thumping of Columbus.

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Speaking of Carroll, his 2-for-5 effort with three RBI marked just the tail end of a stellar week  that earned the outfielder the Tribe’s first IL Player of the Week honors. For the period of April 8-14, Carroll ranked first among qualified hitters in all of Minor League Baseball with his .588 batting average and second with his .650 on-base percentage.

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Overall during the week, Carroll impressed at the plate with at least one hit and one RBI in each of his six games, highlighted by blasting all three of his homers in April during that span.

His accolade was the first such award for an Indians player in 2013 and first for the team since Starling Marte took home the honors for the week of June 25 – July 2, 2012.

Indianapolis’ talented squad then traveled to Toledo where the ball was placed in the hands of Pittsburgh Pirates No. 1 prospect Gerrit Cole. The right-hander entered the start on April 16 with an 0-1 record and lofty 6.00 ERA through his first two appearances, but using improved control over his secondary pitches, Cole overpowered the Mud Hens through 6.1 IP to earn his first win of the campaign.

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Cole’s evolution from top Triple-A prospect to NLDS Games 2 and 5 starter began with his outing against Toledo. He allowed just four hits, only one for extra bases, and one earned run while striking out five in 6.1 frames of action. Cole tossed a then season-high 95 pitches as he began to emerge as the ace of the Tribe’s staff.

Cole’s catcher, Tony Sanchez, added a few thoughts on the quality start; “Gerrit was a pitcher tonight, he grew up tonight because he learned that he can’t just get by anymore with that fastball.”

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“We used a lot more of his curveball today then his slider and that’s what is going to make him a successful pitcher in the big leagues,” Sanchez said. “He cannot always rely on a 97 mph fastball because anyone can start squaring that up. Before the game I said stick with me and I think he only shook me off like one time, maybe three times, it wasn’t a lot. That really helped us stay on the same page and get in a rhythm and allow him to throw 6.1 innings of great baseball.”

One solid pitching performance led to another when the Indians began the last leg of their road trip at Louisville Slugger Field.

Following Cole’s gem, Opening Day starter Andy Oliver laid the ground work for his IL strikeout-leading season, fanning a career high-tying 10 batters through 6.0 shutout innings on April 19. The southpaw was literally unhittable aside from one lone single from Bats backstop Konrad Schmidt.

Here’s a taste of Oliver’s IL-best 138 punchouts:

When Indianapolis returned home to close out the month of April, the man behind the plate for both Oliver and Cole’s lights-out starts, Sanchez, offered some support for his pitching staff through his clutch swing. With each of the month’s final 10 games scheduled at Victory Field, Sanchez took advantage of the opportunity to dazzle the home crowd with some late-inning heroics on April 22 against the Bats.

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After being shutout for the first seven innings and trailing 4-0, the Indians finally got on the board with two runs in the eighth to cut the deficit to 4-2.

Unfortunately, the Tribe then fell victim to their second double play of the game as a 5-3 twin killing plated another run in the ninth, but pushed the Indians to their final out of the contest.

Sanchez then stepped up to the plate and completed the improbable comeback by launching the third pitch from Louisville reliever Clay Hensley over the left field wall to give the Tribe a 5-4 walk-off win.

The “Voice of the Tribe” Howard Kellman with the call:

Indianapolis kept the momentum rolling through what turned out to be a historic 9-1 homestand, winning both games against Louisville, sweeping Lehigh Valley in a four-contest set and taking three of four from the Gwinnett Braves.

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The 9-1 homestand marked just the second time in Victory Field history the Indians had won nine of 10 games in a single home set, while the nine wins were tied for the most victories in a single homestand of any length during the Victory Field era.

Of course, the 2013 Tribe wouldn’t accomplish such feats without a flare of dramatics:

Josh Harrison said he aims to “wreak havoc” whenever he’s on base, and his theft of home was no different.

“I try to get in the pitcher’s head whether I’m stealing or not,” Harrison said. “I was looking for a spot to go, and I know anytime I’m over there they’re going to worry about me.”

Click here to read his full breakdown of one of baseball’s rarest plays.

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The Indianapolis Indians put some miles on the Victory Bell in April, finishing the month with the best record in Triple-A at 20-7. The Tribe’s 20 wins also established a new franchise record for the most victories ever during the month of April.

However, April was just the beginning for the Tribe, who entered May on pace for the franchise’s best start in over 50 years.

APRIL PLAYER OF THE MONTH:

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RHP Vic Black

April Stats:
W/L:  0-1
SV/Opp:  6/7
ERA:  2.93 (5 ER in 15.1 IP)
BAA:  .170 (9-for-53)  
SO:  24

Black was one of the most consistent arms out of the Tribe’s bullpen in April, converting six of seven save opportunities while posting a 2.93 ERA (5 ER in 15.1 IP), 1.04 WHIP and 24 strikeouts to just seven walks. The right-hander’s six saves were the third most in the International League during the month, and his 11 appearances were tied for second among all IL hurlers.

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After surrendering three earned runs in his first outing, Black rebounded to not allow more than one earned run in any of his final 10 appearances, including delivering eight scoreless efforts en route to a stellar 1.29 ERA (2 ER in 14.0 IP) through the remainder of the month.

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