[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.]
June in Review
Facing a daily roster shuffle which featured seven different players joining the Pirates up in Pittsburgh, the Indianapolis Indians relied on several new faces and a handful of late-inning heroics as they pieced together a winning month of June.
The Tribe claimed eight of its 18 June wins in the team’s final at-bat of the game, including four walk-off victories, and emerged with an 18-11 record through the season’s third month and an incredible 55-30 record overall. Indianapolis also jumped out to its largest lead in the division during June with a 14.5-game advantage over second-place Louisville.
The Indians came out swinging when the calender flipped its page, blasting 21 extra-base hits through the final three contests of a four-game sweep at Columbus. The impressive feat was highlighted by a team season-high six homers and 11 extra-base hits in a 13-3 thumping of the Clippers on June 2, when eight of nine Tribe starters produced at least one extra-base knock.
“We are swinging the bat really well,” slugger Jerry Sands said after Indianapolis scored double-digit runs for the third straight game.
While six homers was certainly an impressive addition to their resume, the Indians relied even more heavily a lone three-run bomb from catcher Lucas May to complete the sweep at Columbus.
After watching Clippers take a 2-1 lead in the seventh frame, the Tribe came battling back to tie the contest in the top of the eighth courtesy of an RBI double from Brett Carroll. The home team then plunked Sands with a pitch to put runners on first and second with no outs and May due up at the plate. However, as Columbus expected a sacrifice bunt from the backstop, May shocked the opposition by swinging away at the first pitch:
During his postgame interview May admitted he was allowed only one swing when he dug in at the plate.
“I was not (thinking I would be allowed to swing) – I am looking at the scoreboard and we are tied up and have first and second nobody out,” May said. “(Coach Mike Pagliarulo) calls me over and said he would give me one swing and luckily I put a good swing on it.”
The Indians departed from Columbus having totaled an incredible 61 base knocks through four games. Unfortunately, the hit parade would soon come to a screeching halt as the team was set to welcome the IL’s top-ranked pitching staff of the Durham Bulls.
Separated by just 2.5 games for the best record in the entire league, the Bulls and Tribe battled for IL supremacy in a four-contest series from June 4-7, where three of the matchups were decided by just one run. And the Indians, who entered the series with the top home record in all of baseball at 22-7, held strong at Victory Field to nab a series split against the red-hot Bulls and maintain the best record in the International League.
One of the most impressive performances of the first-place showdown belonged to Indianapolis staff ace Gerrit Cole. In his final Triple-A start of the season, the top prospect erased any doubts of his highly-touted arsenal as he three-hit the Bulls through 7.0 scoreless innings in the Tribe’s 1-0 combined shutout victory.
Here’s what Vince Belnome, who finished the season ranked tied for sixth in the IL with a .300 average, was able to muster against the flamethrower.
(Hint: this wan’t one of Cole’s four hits)
After Durham departed hat-in-hand, the Indians played host to the Norfolk Tides in a four-game set chocked full of oddities.
The series opened with the Tribe escaping a no-out, bases-loaded jam in both the ninth and 11th inning en route to a sac-fly walk-off win in the bottom of the 11th. Game 2 then provided it’s own share of a peculiarity as recently promoted Andrew Lambo knocked a walk-off homer off Tides designated-hitter-turned-pitcher Chris Robinson in the longest game ever played at Victory Field.
Clocking in at four hours and a 42 minutes, the 13-inning marathon featured a combined 12 pitchers between Indianapolis and Norfolk and ended with Lambo’s longball landing just beyond the right-field fence as the clock ticked one minute past the previous Victory Field single-game record of four hours and 41 minutes.
The Indians were forced to play comeback several times throughout the game and even found themselves on the wrong end of the score sheet in the bottom of the ninth inning. But, after Jared Goedert sent the game to extras with his game-tying, one-out double, Lambo victimized Norfolk’s DH Robinson when the “hurler” floated an eephus pitch towards the plate:
“(Chris Robinson) was throwing a lot slower than normal position players so I moved up in the box,” Lambo said after the win. “You’ve just gotta have a simple approach; sometimes you can get yourself out (with non-pitchers).”
The Indians would drop their next game against Norfolk before ultimately claiming a 3-1 series victory over the visiting Tides. With a 5-3 record through its recent homestand, The Tribe then departed for an eight-game road trip against both of its previously visiting opponents with stops scheduled at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and Harbor Park.
Indianapolis’ encountered a bump in the road on its first leg of the road swing, losing three of four games to the Bulls from June 13-16. The Indians lone victory was by no means a “gimme” either, and after watching their 4-0 lead vanish by the ninth frame, finally eeked out the win behind 10th-inning homers from Carroll and Sands.
Harbor Park yielded far different results for the Tribe, who leaned on its stellar pitching staff of both regular hurlers and rehab appearances in a dominant sweep of the Tides.
Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel opened the series with a strong Triple-A debut, fanning seven through 6.0 innings while limiting Norfolk to just five hits and one unearned run. His outing laid the foundation for a strong rookie season at the Triple-A level and matched 2012 outings from Gerrit Cole (9/1 vs. TOL – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO) and Kyle McPherson (8/8 vs. CHA – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB) for the longest start in a Triple-A debut with the Tribe since 2011.
Pimentel on the mound:
Two games later, the Indians were handed another gem in the form of rehabbing Pittsburgh Pirates righty Jeanmar Gomez.
Gomez, who was placed on the Major League disabled list with an inflamed and strained right forearm on June 3, capped off his two-start rehab stretch by no-hitting Norfolk through 5.0 shutout frames in which he allowed just two base runners while striking out four. Gomez tossed just 52 pitches in the lights-out effort.
With Gomez in control on the mound, the power-hitting Lambo took care of providing the offense as he slugged a homer in each game of the Indians doubleheader on June 19. His pair of longballs also extended the Indians streak to an unbelievable 10 straight games with at least one home run, a stretch with 14 total homers from June 9-19.
Indianapolis then returned home to close out the month of June with four-game sets against Charlotte and Rochester, and a three-game series against Louisville. Although the Indians had grown accustomed to its winning ways, the Tribe was welcomed back to reality by earning series splits in all three series (only two games of three against Louisville were played in June) to post a 5-5 mark through the final 10 contests of the month.
International League All-Star Josh Harrison led the offensive charge down the stretch run of June. As part of his .356 average in the month, Harrison tied two long-standing Victory Field era records by slapping two triples, both with the bases loaded, and driving in six runs during Indianapolis’ 10-5 triumph over Charlotte on June 24.
The pair of triples were also just two of Harrison’s Minor-League best 20 extra-base hits in June.
Not to be outdone, Lambo matched Harrison’s efforts by taking home hardware as the IL’s Batter of the Week for the period of June 24-30. In the six games played during the week, Lambo hit .500 with four runs, a double, three home runs, eight RBI, five walks and a 1.056 slugging percentage, the latter of which ranked as the fourth fourth-highest in all of Minor League baseball that week.
“I’ve just been trying to be physically and mentally prepared so I can continue it (his pace) through the season,” Lambo said after being named Batter of the Week. “We’re halfway through but there’s still a lot of room for improvement and a lot of things that you can work on every day. I’m always coming to the ballpark and trying to learn something new.”
Though a series split was just shy of the Indians’ expectations, their 2-2 split with Rochester capped an improbable run of Indianapolis remaning unbeaten in home series through each of the first three months of the 2013 season. The Tribe emerged from the month of June with five series splits at Victory Field and seven outright series wins.
But Louisville was determined to change that fortune as the season progressed into July and the two Clubs attempted to keep the other out of the Governor’s Cup Playoffs.
JUNE PLAYER OF THE MONTH:
ERA: 1.65 (6 ER in 32.2 IP)
BAA: .235 (28-for-119)
Johnson served as one of the most versatile hurlers for the Tribe’s top-ranked pitching staff in June, going 2-1 with two saves, the league’s third-best ERA (1.65) and tying for the eighth-best WHIP (1. 07) over four starts and three relief appearances. The southpaw allowed just six runs through the entire month while ranking second on the Indians staff with 21 strikeouts to just seven walks in a team-high 32.2 innings of work
Johnson finished the month as one of only three pitchers in the entire IL to record multiple wins and saves in June.