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.]

July in Review

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As the season approached its unofficial “halfway point” at the All-Star break, the Indianapolis Indians found themselves on the wrong end of several tough-luck losses during July. The Tribe entered the month with an  impressive 55-30 record through April, May and June but limped to 10-18  in July while also attempting to hold off the surging, second-place Louisville Bats.

Of course, that’s not to say the Indians lacked success throughout the month.

Leaning on strong  individual performances across the board, most notably from the starting rotation and middle-of-the-order power bats, Indianapolis battled through a trying schedule to prove that July’s final win-loss totals didn’t quite tell the whole story.  And above all, the Tribe found ways to maintain its stranglehold of the International League’s West Division down the season’s stretch drive.

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Indianapolis developed a familiar  in division rival Louisville from the end of June and into the early goings of July. As a span of six straight matchups against the Bats  (June 29 – July 4) came to its conclusion on the Fourth of July, the Tribe faced the tall task of rebounding from a walkoff loss on the previous night if it wanted to salvage a 3-3 series split.

Luckily, the Indians’ fortune was about to change as part of their historic Independence Day celebration.

A then-season high 14,741 fans packed the ballpark to see the Indians don their Fourth of July jerseys to settle the slugfest with Louisville. Backed by the roars of a sellout crowd, the Tribe’s pitching staff rose to the occasion to author a combined shutout with Andy Oliver (6.2 IP), Jose Contreras (1.1 IP) and Vic Black (1.0 IP) holding the Bats to just five total base hits in the Indians 4-0 win.

“It was awesome to have a packed house like that; I even heard the top deck” team captain Matt Hague said after the victory. “And (Indians starter Andy) Oliver, he pitched to contact, he threw a lot of strikes, he kept the game tempo going and it’s fun to play defense behind him.”

oliver

Oliver overcame early control issues, and aside from issuing four walks, spun a masterpiece with six strikeouts and four scattered base knocks through 6.2 innings of action. The southpaw allowed only one batter to advance past second base as he extended a streak in which Indianapolis had won each of Oliver’s last eight starts.

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Indianapolis carried its Independence Day celebrations over into the opening contest of its next set of games at Fifth-Third Field in Toledo. Infielder Ivan DeJesus led the charge, collecting a three-hit effort while also reaching base safely four times in the Tribe’s eventual 4-2 win on July 5.  But the series-opening win marked just the first contest of an eight-game road swing away from Victory Field.

Or in other words, home away from home for the red-hot DeJesus.

DeJesus, who batted an impressive .324 (56-for-173) on the road in 2013, used his knack for hitting at opposing ballparks to turn in arguably the most dominating month of any Indians batter with his torrid July. The Tribe infielder seemed to always produce a productive appearance at the plate, and after reaching base safely in 12 of the first 13 games in July, DeJesus concluded the month ranked second in the IL in batting average (.377), doubles (8) and on-base percentage (.449).

He also flashed his versatility by suiting up at second base, shortstop and third base for the Tribe during the month.

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But where DeJesus was great on the road, former Toledo prospect Avisail Garcia was greater in his home ballpark.

The current Chicago White Sox farmhand more-or-less single-handily defeated the Indians on July 7, hitting for the complete cycle in a 4-for-5 effort with four runs scored, three RBI and a stolen base. The prospect’s abuse of the opposition’s pitching put the Tribe in the night’s headlines for all the wrong reasons, as Garcia’s feat was one of just two cycles in the IL during the entirety of the season  (also Jim Negrych).

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After playing host to Garcia’s cycle and dropping the three-game series in Toledo 1-2, Indianapolis arrived at the hitter-friendly stadium of Huntington Park in Columbus, where it would benefit from a pair of nontraditional victories to earn an outright series win in a three-game set against the Clippers.

In the series opener on July 8, the Indians twice jumped ahead on the scoreboard before also twice seeing their lead vanish on late rallies from the Clippers. As the game progressed into extra innings, Indianapolis’ bullpen mustered every bit of strength it had to combine for 5.0 hitless frames from the eighth to the 12th. And just as Indians’ relievers tied the bow on their dominant stretch, the bullpen’s counterparts for the Clippers summoned catcher-turned-temporary-reliever Omir Santos to the mound for the 12th inning.

Santos, meet Andrew Lambo.

While Indianapolis’ 12th-inning eruption paced the extra-innings win, it also proved to be the team’s last hint of offense until the third matchup and rubber game on July 10. The Indians, who were held scoreless in a 4-0 shutout loss in game two on July 9, finally showed signs of life in game three by matching all four of Columbus’ runs through the first 12 innings on a rain-soaked July 10.

But in their second extra-inning affair of the last three games, neither Indianapolis nor Columbus could hold off the unwavering storms that forced the contest’s suspension in what would have been the 33rd inning of baseball between the Tribe and Clippers over just a two-and-a-half day span.

To top the unusual series off, the suspended game also marked the final meeting at Huntington Park between the two teams for the remainder of the 2013 season, meaning the contest would be scheduled to resume during the Clippers’ next road trip to Victory Field in the following weekend.

clippers

Fast-forward through a two-game split in Louisville and the Indians returned to Victory Field to find themselves still batting as the visiting squad for the resumption of their original road game in Columbus. In addition, the game’s odd circumstances further came into play as each team’s last reliever from Huntington Park re-entered the contest having both already pitched in the original game, while also now benefiting from a full three days of rest.

As fate would have it, the resumed game’s 12 innings then turned into a 16-frame marathon featuring a Clippers’ game-tying rally in the bottom of both the 14th and 15th innings. However, with the score locked 6-6 in the top of the 16th, Indianapolis finally broke through “reliever” Boof Bonser when they tagging the righty for three runs during his seventh and final frame out of the Columbus bullpen.

“It (the win) can help us big time, we’ve been struggling to score runs and I think this can help us with our confidence,” infielder Brian Bocock, who slugged a pair of homers over the two-day game, said.

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“Hitting is all confidence and when you get a game like this it should do it (help the team’s confidence).”

Along with Bocock’s impressive performance, both the contest and its rare circumstances also featured a new Victory Field era record for most at-bats in a game (Alex Presley, 9), an Indians season high-tying 5.0 innings of relief (Athualpa Severino), a combined 12 pitchers between the two Clubs and with a final game time of five hours and 32 minutes, clocking in as the second-longest game in Victory Field history.

Once all was said and done and Indianapolis emerged with a 16-inning, 9-6 victory, the pair of road-weary teams made the most of a brief, 30-minute respite before returning to the diamond for their regularly-scheduled nine-inning contest at Victory Field.

And waiting to help boost their hometown Tribe, nearly 15,000 Indians fans packed the ballpark by the first pitch of the doubleheader’s deciding game.

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Indianapolis’ sellout crowd of 14,783 fans on July 13 marked the team’s highest attendance to that point of the season and second-highest overall by the end of the 2013 campaign. The capacity crowd, coupled with a throng of 14,741 fans on July 4th, also gave the Tribe its first  back-to-back sellouts since July 21-22, 2000.

But unfortunately for the Indians, the staggering turnout was not enough to propel the home team to victory, and following a 5-2, 11-inning loss in the second game on July 13, Indianapolis then dropped a second straight contest  against Columbus on July 14 in the season’s final tilt before the All-Star break.

In the end, the pair of defeats served little in terms of dampening the mood from the Tribe’s tremendously successful “first half” of the season. And even with a slow start to the month of July, the Indians still entered the All-Star break boasting a phenomenal 13.0-game lead in the IL West Division. In addition, Indianapolis was the only team in the International League to feature four selections to the 2013 Triple-A Midsummer Classic, which was set to take place a mere three days after the first-half finale against the Clippers.

Next stop: Reno, Nevada and the Triple-A All-Star Game.

Indianapolis standouts Josh Harrison (SS), Vic Black (RHP), Kris Johnson (LHP) and Tony Sanchez (C)  were all voted to represent the first-place Indians at the annual showcase. Although Harrison was unable to attend the contest due to his promotion to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the remaining Tribe trio took center stage in the IL’s 4-3 win over the Pacific Coast League, with Johnson picking up a hold  through 1.0 scoreless frames and Black following with a hold of his own after punching out one batter in 0.2 perfect innings.

Oh, and Sanchez helped out too:

“I can’t believe it,” Sanchez said after belting the game-winning three-run homer and receiving the IL’s Top Star award.  “Coming to a game like this with all the talent you’re surrounded by. You just hope you don’t mess up. You don’t expect to shine like that.”

Sanchez’s heroics etched him in the franchise record books as just the third Indians player to be named the IL’s Top Star and first since fellow catcher Erik Kratz took home the honor at the 2009 showcase. The only other player to win the award for Indianapolis, aside from the pair of backstops, is the reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, who captured the award in 2008.

The Tribe’s All-Star celebrations proved to be short lived, however, as the team received a rude awakening in the form of three straight losses to Gwinnett in their first series back in action (July 18-20). Even so, Indianapolis found a silver lining in the string of defeats as Triple-A rookie Stolmy Pimentel continued his burst on the scene by authoring his third quality start through his first four outings of the month.

The right-hander’s solid effort on July 18 helped keep Indianapolis within striking distance of the Braves, as he allowed just two earned runs (four total runs) on five hits while fanning seven through 7.0 innings of work. Pimentel’s impressive start was his seventh of the season for the Tribe and further lowered his Triple-A ERA to an impressive mark of 2.74.

Yet – and as the case would remain for the majority of the final three months of the season – the Indians found themselves not lacking in stronger pitching, but rather an improved offense as they attempted to bounce back on track.

Indianapolis’ aforementioned paradigm was brought to life when the club eclipsed the three-run mark in just four of 15 games in July after the All-Star break. Conversely, the team’s pitching staff, which included strong Indians debuts from Ethan Hollingsworth and David Bromberg, limited opponents to two runs or fewer in seven of those same 15 games while being tagged for  more than five total runs in just four of 15 games.

“I felt good, (pitching coach Tom) Filer was just telling me to just go out there and mix it up,” Bromberg said after allowing just two runs in 5.0 frames during his Indians debut on July 28.

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“Filer said just try to get them off-balance, change the eye level on them. And (Tribe catcher Lucas) May told me ‘Hey, we’re going to mix it up, and if you shake (off a called pitch) just make sure you make a good pitch.'”

As the tough month approached its conclusion, the Indians rebounded from a season-worst seven-game losing streak from July 23-29 to collect back-to-back wins against Scranton (July 30-31) to close out July. At 10-18, the results certainly weren’t ideal  in the win-loss columns, but the Indianapolis Indians would return the diamond in August as proud owners of  a double-digit game lead in the IL West Division.

And with nine matchups against second-place Louisville remaining on the season’s calendar, every game still counted down the stretch drive.

JULY PLAYER OF THE MONTH:

Pimentel

RHP Stolmy Pimentel

July Stats:
W/L:  2-2
ERA:  1.99 (9 ER in 40.2 IP)
BAA:  .203 (30-for-148)  
SO:  24

Pimentel served as the workhorse for the Tribe’s pitching staff in July, leading the team and tying for first in all of Triple-A baseball with 40.2 innings pitched. The right-hander allowed just nine earned runs during the entire month for a stellar 1.99 ERA, which ranked first among all league hurlers who made at least six starts in July.

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Pimentel also limited opponents to two earned runs or fewer in five of his six appearances, and finished the month ranked fifth in the IL in both WHIP (0.89) and batting average against (.203).

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