[During the offseason, The Inside Pitch will provide a month-by-month look-back at the record-setting 2014 season. Beginning with a review of April on Sept. 9, fans can relive each month as we anxiously count down to the 2015 campaign.]
The Indianapolis Indians were nothing short of unstoppable through the first month of the season. Boasting the best record in the IL at 17-8, the Tribe rolled through April and won two of its first three games in May to improve to 19-9 over the first 28 contests of the 2014 season.
But facing a road-heavy schedule with 34 of 59 games away from Victory Field through May and June, the top-ranked Indians squad began to sputter as they added more and more miles on their increasingly traveled treads.
And first on the Indians’ docket was a continuation of their ongoing trend of “unique,” weather-related schedule adjustments.
Just a few weeks removed from two postponements by snow in late April, the Tribe saw their first game of May reach an early conclusion in only the seventh frame. Not by rain. Not by snow. But —
The Tribe hung tough in the early goings of the “Fog Game” a 2-1 affair live on CBS Sports Network. After starter Jeff Locke was pulled in the second inning in preparation for an upcoming start with the Pirates, righty reliever Phil Irwin blanked the Pawtucket Red Sox through four innings just as a heavy, green fog began to descend on McCoy Stadium.
With conditions worsening and a shortened game seemingly imminent, slugger Andrew Lambo turned on a 1-1 pitch to give the Indians just enough of a boost at just the right time to turn the tide in the visiting team’s favor.
Lambo’s two-run bomb plated April Player of the Month Gregory Polanco and put the Tribe ahead 3-2 in the top of the sixth. More importantly, his fatal blow proved to be the difference once the umpiring crew was forced to call the game in the Tribe’s favor with one out in the bottom of the seventh.
“I couldn’t see the ball up there,” shortstop Robert Andino said on the field after hauling in a popup for the eventual final out. “I lost it and it came down (out of the fog) at the last second.”
The Indians escaped with a victory and series split before stumbling along a season high-tying losing skid from May 4-10.
After previously dropping just one set of back-to-back games as of May 3, the Triple-A Club suffered seven consecutive defeats from the series finale against the PawSox, a four-game sweep at Scranton and each of the first two home contests to Norfolk upon returning to Victory Field on May 9.
The tipping point finally arrived after a gut-wrenching, extra-innings loss dropped the Indians out of first place in the IL West.
Luckily, mere hours after falling into second place for the first time since April 13, 2013, the Fog-Game duo of Locke and Irwin combined to limit the Tides to two runs over nine innings of a 5-2 win to help the Indians reclaim the top rung in the division.
Said Irwin, who sealed the win with his first career save in just the 16th relief outing of nearly 100 total appearances in the minors:
“I finally got to sit back and watch a couple games and realize it was just a normal game and nothing’s any different (starting or out of the bullpen),” he said. “So as long as I go out there and pitch my game, I can have success.”
And so could the Tribe.
Anchored by an impressive debut month from starter Vance Worley (2-1, 3.82), and powered by a team-high 16-game hitting streak from Chris Dickerson, the Indians rebounded from a 2-8 start of the month to win 10 of the next 12 and 14 of 20 contests through the end of May.
The offense also erupted from its dormant stretch of just four homers in the first 10 games to go deep 16 times in the final 20 of the month.
Case and point — Matt Hague, who smashed this (below) grand slam to put the exclamation point on a 14-3 beatdown of Norfolk on May 12.
While Hague hammered away one homer at a time, Dickerson provided the day-to-day spark with a .467 (26-for-64) clip during his then IL-best (T-7th overall in 2014) 16-game hitting streak.
“He’s been a mentor for some of these guys and someone who fits in really well in this clubhouse,” skipper Dean Treanor said of Dickerson’s veteran presence. “I know [Dickerson hoped for more action in the big leagues], but to his credit, he hasn’t let that affect his play.”
Dickerson’s impressive feat ranked with just five contests of the Victory Field Era record (1996) 21-gamer from both Eduardo Perez (1996) and Rajai Davis (2007).
Despite an anti-climatic snap in a lone pinch-hit appearance on May 19, Dickerson ultimately extended his streak to hit safely in 21 straight starts through May 26. He capped the stretch at 33-for-85 with eight doubles, one triple, two homers, 18 runs scored, 14 RBI and league-leading totals of a .388 average and .460 OBP.
He also did – this (below) – as the soon-to-be Tribe Player of the Month:
Meanwhile, fellow Tribe outfielder Gregory Polanco began capturing headlines of his own as a two-time IL Batter of the Week Award winner. The phenom led the league in average (.591), hits (13), RBI (9), total bases (22), OBP (.654) and slugging (1.000) from May 12-18 to become the first Indians player to win two of the league’s weekly batting awards in one season.
Team hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo commented on Polanco’s week of four multi-knock efforts in six games:
“He’s going to swing if he sees a good pitch, and that’s a good thing,” Pagliarulo said. “He’s also hitting with guys on base and the cleanup hitter behind him, so he does see some good pitches.”
The Tribe then stormed down the stretch in May, posting its 14-6 mark through the final 20 games of the month via series wins against Pawtucket (3-1), Charlotte (3-1) and Buffalo (3-1), and spits both at Gwinnett (2-2) and vs. Scranton (1-1 in May, 2-2 through June 2). Plus, en route to a 16-14 overall record in May, the Indians solidified a winning mark through the month behind an absolute gem from righty starter Worley, who struck out a career-high 10 over eight innings of two-run ball on May 28th at Victory Field.
Ultimately, a month of highs and lows gave the reigning IL West champs a 16-14 record in May, 33-22 mark overall and a 6.5-game advantage within the division heading into June.
The next step? Pushing for representation at the All-Star Game.
MAY PLAYER OF THE MONTH:
The major league veteran Dickerson tore through International League pitching to the tune of a league-high .364 average with 32 base knocks in 24 games (88 at-bats) during the second month of the season. He carrried a 1-for-4 effort from April 31 into the month of May and proceeded to hit safely in a team season-high 16 consecutive games through the front end of the Tribe’s doubleheader on May 19.
By May’s end, Dickerson ranked second on the team with both his 19 runs scored (T-6th, IL) and six stolen bases (T-10th, IL). He also totaled eight doubles, one triple, four homers and 14 RBI during his award-winning month.