[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.]
May in Review
The Indianapolis Indians entered the month of May boasting a 20-7 record and pursuing one the best starts in the franchise’s 100-plus year history. Using a combination of strong pitching and timely hitting, the Tribe continued its torrid pace to open the season, and after notching a series-opening victory in Lehigh Valley on May 1, the Indians improved to an incredible 21-7 through the first 28 contests of the season.
Although Indianapolis dropped its next game against the IronPigs on May 2, its 21-8 record marked the team’s best start since the 1959 Indians squad began the season at 22-7.
Winning, of course, wasn’t anything new to the 2013 Indians team as they progressed through the month of May, but the team’s recently discovered power stroke at the plate came as a complete 180-degree turn from its timid offense in April.
After slugging just 11 homers in 27 games through the season’s first month, the Tribe’s bats came alive to crush 34 longballs in 29 games during the month of May. The impressive display of power featured five different Tribe batters with at least four homers, and the team’s 34 total blasts were the third-most in the International League during the month.
Leading the way for the Tribe were sluggers Brett Carroll and Jared Goedert. The duo led all Indianapolis batters by knocking six home runs apiece and concluded the month tied for 10th in the entire league in that category.
“Hitting is absolutely contagious,” Carroll said after a 14-7 thumping of Buffalo on May 15. “We’re just trying to be aggressive and when guys are getting on base in front of you, we just try to keep the line going.”
The outfielder’s strong month also featured one of just four multi-homer games by an Indians hitter last season, with Carroll going 2-for-5 with two bombs and four RBI in the aforementioned rout of the Bisons.
Here’s a look at what happens when a slugger like Carroll is, what some call, “in the zone:”
Carroll and Goedert’s hot hitting couldn’t have come at a better time for the Indians, who dropped three of four games in Lehigh Valley to open the month of May. Despite playing solid baseball and suffering two of the three defeats in walk-off fashion, the Tribe’s lineup found itself in search of a new identity as it attempted to rebound from the call-up of standout infielder Jordy Mercer on May 3.
While transactions occur on a nearly daily basis at the Minor League level, the loss of Mercer was an especially tough pill to swallow for Indianapolis because of his leadership in the clubhouse. After a close defeat to Columbus early in the season, Mercer embodied his presence in the locker room when he touched on his competitive drive with teammate Alex Presley.
“I think we challenge each other and that’s what makes us pretty good,” Mercer said. You know if he gets on base, you know I want to get on too. I want to be right there with him, us hitting right there, first and second. I think that us challenging each other, who’s going to get the hit, or who’s not going get the hit, that makes us that much better.”
Mercer was a stalwart in the lineup for the Tribe prior to his promotion, and along with leading the team with a .333 average and 19 RBI at the plate, he also recorded a .985 fielding percentage in the field on a few slick plays with his glove.
Or lack thereof, as seen below:
With the Indians’ offense sputtering in the wake of an ever-changing lineup card, the team’s pitching staff was forced to rise to the occasion to keep Indianapolis in the win column.
Enter Andy Oliver.
Indianapolis’ southpaw posted arguably his best month of the 2013 campaign in May, going 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA while limiting opposing batters to a menial .176 average against. Oliver anchored the Tribe’s staff by working three straight outings in which he allowed no more than one earned run from May 6 -16, and was especially dominant through the month’s opening two starts as he halted the Tribe’s first three-game losing streak of the season.
“I feel like I had everything working for me when I needed it,” Oliver said after hurling 6.0 shutout innings against Scranton on May 6.
“When I needed to be aggressive, I made some pitches and they ended up grounding out or swinging through it … I feel good about myself, the way I’ve gone about my start. It’s something to build off of and keep working on.”
Oliver built off of his strong start to finish the week of May 6-13 with a perfect 2-0 record with just five hits allowed and only one earned run through a combined 11.0 innings of work. His incredible 0.89 ERA through the pair of outings led to IL Pitcher of the Week honors on May 13, while his pair of victories helped pilot Indianapolis to a pair of 3-1 series wins at Scranton and vs. Buffalo.
With Oliver setting the tone, a trio of Indianapolis hurlers matched the southpaw’s dominance in an impressive fashion of their own when the team welcomed a visiting Buffalo squad on May 17 at Victory Field.
In a tightly contested matchup, starter Brandon Cumpton, southpaw strikeout specialist Mike Zagurski and righty closer Vic Black combined to three-hit the Bisons’ top-ranked offense through 9.0 innings. The shutdown performance featured just two base knocks and seven strikeouts in 6.0 frames from Cumpton, followed by two whiffs and no hits through 1.1 frames by Zagurski and finally five outs with a lone hit and two strikeouts by Black.
But the hero of the game didn’t come from Indianapolis’ pitching staff.
In a shocking turn of events, an unlikely hero of Jerry Sands provided just enough late-inning heroics to support the Indians’ three-headed pitching masterpiece.
Sands, who entered the game batting only .154 on the season, picked a perfect time to find his stroke at the plate when he stepped into the box with the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh with one out and the go-ahead run on second.
Following a Tony Sanchez double to left, Sands watched a ball and strike sail by to draw an even 1-1 count with opposing starter Justin Germano.
One pitch later, Sands decided he had waited long enough to break out of his slump and turned Germano’s next offering into a game-winning RBI triple that scored Sanchez and gave the Indians a 2-1 triumph over Buffalo. The win also extended the Tribe’s winning streak to three consecutive series, and the Tribe hit the road for an eight-game swing having won nine of their last 12 contests from May 6-16.
And unfortunately for the on-waiting Red Sox and Bisons, Sands made sure to bring his powerful stick when the Tribe departed for McCoy Stadium and Coca-Cola Field.
“I’ve just tried to keep positive, go up there and do what you know how to do,” Sands said after launching three home runs in a four-game span. “You have to get your work in before the game, but just go up there and trust yourself. It’s tough, but just keep going.”
Sands put the exclamation point on his stretch of hot hitting by belting a grand slam on May 20 at Pawtucket, before passing the torch onto the team captain Matt Hague.
The 2013 Indians MVP picked up right where Sands left off, but instead of blasting three home runs, the “Hit Collector” knocked three doubles.
In one game.
Just one day after Sands’ slam, Hague turned in a masterful effort of his own in a 9-8 loss at the RedSox, going 3-for-5 with an Indians season high-tying three two-baggers.
Focusing on what he described as “being aggressive with my (swing) path to the ball,” Hague’s three-double game marked the first of three multi-hit efforts over a six-game span in which he hit .360 with an IL-best three homers, eight extra-base knocks and .920 slugging percentage.
Hague’s tremendous efforts at the plate during the week of May 20-26 led to both IL Batter of the Week honors and two crucial series splits for the Indians at both Pawtucket and Buffalo.
The “Hit Collector” in action:
At 14-10 through the first 24 games in May, the Tribe then returned to Victory Field for the final homestand of the month. The Indians, holding a slim lead over the IL North Durham Bulls, knew the upcoming four-game set against Pawtucket could ultimately spell the difference in the maintaining their lead atop the Triple-A standings.
But on May 28, the game stood for far more than just boasting “the best record in Triple-A.”
In his third season at the helm of the Tribe, Indians Manager Dean Treanor had collected a 199-142 record to find himself knocking on the door of an elite fraternity among the Indianapolis franchise’s all-time skippers.
With a win on May 28 against Pawtucket, Treanor would become just the 14th manager in team history to amass 200 career wins with the Tribe, and with a 200-142 record, the skipper would rank behind only Hall-of-Famer Al Lopez (277-182) for the best winning percentage among Indians managers with at least 200 wins.
Let the celebration ensue:
Of course, Treanor has never been one to gloat about his and the Indians’ many accomplishments.
“You know, 200 wins is nice,” Treanor said. “But what it really does is point to the quality of players we’ve had in Indianapolis.”
For good measure, the Tribe then thanked its hometown fans by tacking on one more win in the month’s home finale against Pawtucket on May 30.
Albeit in “wild” fashion.
With the score knotted 2-2 in the bottom of the 10th, Indianapolis quickly put two men on courtesy of a leadoff single from Alex Presley and a double from Ivan DeJesus.
Pawtucket then elected to intentionally walk Chase d’Arnaud to load the bases with no outs, and the strategy initially appeared to pay off as Felix Pie grounded into a force out to set up a potential inning-ending double play.
However, Presley had other things in mind:
The wild-pitch walkoff marked Indianapolis’ final win of the month and gave the Club a 17-12 record in May, as well as the best overall record in all of Triple-A at 37-19.
But it would be far from smooth sailing for the Tribe as the campaign progressed into the third month of season. And unbeknownst to the Indians at the time, Indianapolis would be forced to overcome more than just its International League opponents through June, as its parent club in Pittsburgh had several big-league promotions planned in the coming weeks.
MAY PLAYER OF THE MONTH:
OF Felix Pie
AVG: .356 (31-for-87)
XBH: 10 (5 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR)
Pie was unstoppable on the base paths in May and his 15 stolen bases ranked tied for the most steals in all of Triple-A Baseball during the month. Pie also concluded May ranked second among all International League batters who played in at least 25 games in both batting average (.356) and slugging percentage (.563), while his .446 on-base percentage ranked as the third-highest in the IL.
In addition, the speedy outfielder paced all Tribe hitters with two triples and 15 stolen bases, ranked tied for the team lead with 18 runs scored and ranked second with 31 total base knocks and 19 RBI. Pie also notched two, six-game hitting streaks and belted a grand slam during his award-winning month.