[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.]
“You work hard, you do what you’re supposed to do – come in and get your work in every day and go out and compete and leave everything on the field…you’ll achieve it.”
Speaking to his own determination which helped garner an International League All-Star selection, Casey Sadler unintentionally also framed the overall mindset of his Indianapolis Indians club, especially during the month of July:
The Tribe undoubtedly delivered on the first two steps.
But the results didn’t always follow.
After dropping six of the their final eight games through the end of June, the Indians continued the downward trend to begin July at 1-4 before finally regaining their footing.
However, the team’s lone victory during that opening stretch (July 3) was nothing short of spectacular.
Down 2-1 in the fifth at Louisville, Mel Rojas Jr., who came off the bench as a pinch runner in the third frame and remained in the lineup, began what proved to be a career night for the Triple-A rookie.
Rojas – in dramatic fashion – put his recent 2-for-16 skid in the rearview by surpassing both his hit total from that five-game stretch and RBI total from his first 30 games with the Indians.
The Indianapolis native singled home the tying run in the fifth before also scoring in that frame, plated two with his second base knock while again scoring during the sixth, and capped the Tribe’s 9-2 beatdown with a two-run double in the top of the eighth.
All told, Rojas victimized the hometown Bats by finishing a perfect 3-for-3 with two singles, a double, two runs scored and a career-high five RBI.
All after entering as a late substitution.
“I was ready right from the get-go,” Rojas said after the victory. “We were playing an NL team, so you never know when you’re going to pinch hit. Unfortunately, [he entered following an injury], but I was ready.”
Though Louisville would return the favor via an 11th-inning walkoff in front of the Tribe’s July 4th capacity crowd of 14,303 fans, the Independence Day setback officially marked the beginning of the end for Indianapolis’ early-month woes.
Enter lefty Adam Wilk.
Exit Tribe defeats.
Wilk stamped his return to professional ball from a 2013 appearance in the Korean Baseball Futures League by authoring a career night of his own and ensuring his lone win during July.
His masterpiece came via a five-hit shutout of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on July 6.
Wilk faced a mere five batters above the minimum 27 through the nine-inning effort. The Indians’ southpaw held the IronPigs to four singles and one double through the first eight frames, and after issuing his only walk of the contest with one out in the ninth inning, erased the potential threat by converting a comebacker to the mound into a game-winning doubleplay.
The nine-inning, complete-game shutout was the first of Wilk’s career and marked just the ninth such gem by a Tribe pitcher at Victory Field.
Our Twitter account provided the extra details and Wilk’s final line from the historic feat.
Sparked by the southpaw in their rotation, the Indians again blanked Lehigh Valley the following night to match the Victory Field Era (1996) record of consecutive shutouts, en route to winning three straight and five of the next six games through July 9.
The Tribe was heating up at just the right moment.
The stage was nearly set for the epic, six-games-in-four-days showdown with IL West rival Columbus.
But with the teams separated by just 2.0 games in the division, Indianapolis would defend its crown while missing an important offensive piece following the departure of All-Star outfielder Chris Dickerson.
The veteran and key cog of the Tribe’s attack was acquired by the Cleveland Indians on July 7 in exchange for cash considerations. At the time of the transaction – and to shed light on the importance of the loss – Dickerson was hitting .309 (73-for-236) with 21 extra-base knocks, 44 runs, 30 RBI and 12 stolen bases. He ranked tied for third in the IL in on-base percentage (.407), eighth overall in batting average and first in toughest voids to fill in the Indians’ lineup.
Put simply by team hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo:
“He practices more game-like than most… His preparation is really good and he practices with a purpose,” Pagliarulo said prior to Dickerson’s departure.
But as they had throughout the campaign, the Indians used their “next man up” M.O. to persevere while prepping for the next opponent.
And starter Nick Kingham was more than prepared for Columbus.
The Triple-A rookie opened the pivotal series by flirting with a perfect game in the front end of a double header on July 10. Kingham made short work of a dangerous Clippers lineup, and after retiring the first 17 he faced, stood just four outs shy of perfection.
Unfortunately, Luke Carlin took it upon himself to play the role of spoiler, landing a two-out single in shallow right during the bottom of the sixth to break up the bid.
Kingham would conclude his masterful outing having faced just three batters above the minimum with two hits, one walk and four strikeouts in six scoreless innings.
Columbus’ Chris Aguilar was one of those strikeout victims:
Kingham and Co. edged the ClipShow 1-0 in Game 1 before the Tribe’s offense erupted for a 14-2 beatdown in Game 2 of the twin-bill.
The dominating display featured homers from Rojas and Tony Sanchez, and was capped by the emergence of soon-to-be member of the Pirates closing committee, John Holdzkom, who one-hit Columbus with two whiffs over a three-inning relief appearance.
The Tribe rolled behind the double header sweep to a 4.0-game lead in the division with just four contests remaining until the All-Star break. And each of those four games proved to be crucial as Columbus rallied to finish the “first half” at 4-0 and move into a two-way tie with Indianapolis atop the IL West.
The showdown was everything as advertised.
The Indianapolis Indians thus entered the much-deserved All-Star break with a record of 53-46 and in a tie for first place in the IL West Division. While a four-game series with the rival Clippers awaited on the other side of the Midsummer Classic, the respite provided the Indians some time to step away from both the action and grind of a 144-game season –
Except, of course, for three Tribers who still had one game to play during the July 14-16 break — the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game.
— ALL-STAR CAPSULES —
(at time of announcement)