“This is our kingdom of days”
When I updated the CastroTurf archives last week, leading to a bit of an RSS snafu in which hundreds of old posts were published as “new,” one reader was
bored inspired enough to create a Twitter account, @Pastrovince, to pull out past bits of excruciating minutiae and present them in the present. Those of us following along have had a good laugh at the days when Eric Wedge was touting Chris Gimenez as a potential everyday player and Ryan Garko was logging time in left field.
We are, after all, closing in on that Sparky Anderson-prescribed 40-game mark that will supposedly dictate whether this team is for real, and here the Indians are, still comfortably atop the standings in a weak AL Central. It has been pointed out elsewhere, but it bears repeating that the Tribe can go .500 the rest of the way and still finish with a respectable (and perhaps division winnable) 87 victories.
None of us saw this strong of a start coming (though, of course, some will try to claim they did). But I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at some points in the not-too-distant past that were particularly impactful in paving the way to what has already been an entertaining 2011 season.
The goal here is not to dwell on the obvious, such as the day Manny Acta was hired, the trades of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez and Casey Blake that netted Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson and Carlos Santana, the microfracture surgery that repaired Grady Sizemore’s knee, the shoulder surgery that addressed Travis Hafner’s shoulder or even the (unappreciated at the time) trades that sent the “Benuardo” first base platoon to Seattle and brought in Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera.
All of those developments deserve their due, of course, but all of them are oft-discussed.
Rather, let’s look at 10 dates, in reverse order of importance, that seem much more significant in hindsight than they did at the time. And because I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting, feel free to suggest your own additions to this list in the comments section below.
10. June 3, 2010 – Raffy Perez shuts down the Tigers
I’ll leave it to Perez to explain what clicked here when he one day releases his autobiography, “Breaking the Silence: The Untold Story of Rafael Perez.” All I know is that this guy was so dominant down the stretch in ’07, somewhat ho-hum in ’08 and a disaster in ’09. Last year, he was well on his way to another disappointing year, posting a 7.20 ERA in the season’s first two months. But he pitched two scoreless innings against the Tigers on this night and really hasn’t looked back, once again becoming a major key to the Indians’ success, as you can’t overstate the importance of reliable left-handed relief in the late innings.
Beginning with this outing, Perez has appeared in 66 games and posted a 1.66 ERA. And, famously, he hasn’t done a single interview along the way. (In a strange way, I’d kind of hate to see that streak end.)
9. and 8. June 8, 2004 and June 7, 2006 – Tony Sipp snagged and Vinnie Pestano plucked
The MLB Draft is now a three-day event. Back when it was still a two-day setup, suffice to say the second day was no day to be adding impact talent to your future big-league bullpen. Sipp was the 1,333rd player taken in 2004, and Pestano was the 611th taken in 2006. Now, they are major cogs in what has been an efficient relief setup.
7. July 27, 2010 – Josh Tomlin spanks the Yanks
I mean, seriously… Josh Tomlin gives up just a run on three hits in seven innings? Against the Yankees? In his Major League debut? Nobody… and I mean nobody… saw that coming, and very few expected this to be much more than a one-hit wonder who caught the Yanks off-guard. To this day, there are still plenty who are waiting for Tomlin to implode, and, yes, it could happen, given his lack of raw “stuff.” But Tomlin proved in this outing — the ultimate confidence-builder — that when you consistently throw strikes and get good movement on your pitches, you can eat up even the most advanced competition, as well as innings. His next start in which he doesn’t last at least five innings will be his first. And it all began with this magnificent debut against a vaunted opponent. I’d like to think (and I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to suggest) that this game taught a lesson not only to Tomlin but to the rest of the pitching staff.
6. Feb. 10, 2011 – Orlando Cabrera signed
I wrote at the time that Cabrera would arrive here as a temporary “fixer” in the middle infield, and he’s more than lived up to the expectations of that role. But it was much more difficult to predict the kind of impact he’d have in this clubhouse and this dugout. This kind of stuff has a tendency to get overrated, but to see Cabrera work the dugout during close games, an inexhaustible ball of energy and personality who is not afraid to get in people’s faces to point out mistakes or otherwise just pump them up, is to understand why success has followed him everywhere he goes.
5. March 5, 2011 – Jason Donald hit by a pitch
Donald has been a magnet for injuries thus far in his professional career, and this one, which initially looked to be just a bruise but later turned out to be a small fracture in a bone in his left hand, cost him the opportunity to be the Indians’ Opening Day third baseman. At the time, it seemed this setback would drastically affect the Indians, one way or another, as Donald was still green at the hot corner and might have only been a placeholder for Lonnie Chisenhall anyway. Still, having Jack Hannahan as the only viable option to fill in at third didn’t look particularly promising.
But here we are two months later, and we can safely say Hannahan’s play at third base – the best this team has seen in nearly a decade – has made a profound impact on a contending club. And now there’s no need to rush The Chiz Kid.
4. June 27, 2009 – Mark DeRosa traded to the Cardinals
Maybe I’m misguided, but I don’t feel this trade gets a heck of a lot of attention, locally or nationally.
The Indians’ acquisition of DeRosa in the first place was a bit of a head-scratcher at the time, as it prolonged the Jhonny Peralta-at-short era, blocked Asdrubal Cabrera and rid the Tribe of three young pitchers in the upper levels of the farm system. And by June, when DeRosa was seeing time at first base and the corner outfield and it was clear Wedge really had no idea what to do with him, it was looking like a total dud of a deal.
But the Indians quickly redeemed themselves a month before the Trade Deadline, essentially announcing that they were punting on the ’09 season and dealing DeRosa for Chris Perez and a player to be named. That player to be named would, of course, turn out to be the drastically underwhelming Jess Todd, who is now Yankee property, but the acquisition of Perez alone was enough to make this a steal of a deal — one that has given the Indians that valuable commodity that is a reliable ninth-inning arm. (They also earned points with the writers for giving us that increasingly rare commodity that is a ballplayer with an actual, quotable opinion.)
3. Aug. 26, 2010 – Justin Masterson beats the A’s
I could be wrong, but looking back over the game logs and game stories, this seems to be the night that things began to click consistently for Masterson. He gave up a run in the second and had two on with two out – the sort of situation in which he would routinely implode last year – but he got out of that jam and then basically cruised for the remainder of his six innings of work to improve to 5-12. He threw 19 of 26 first pitches for strikes, earning acclaim from Acta.
Thus began a stretch in which Masterson would go 2-0 with a 1.63 ERA in four “starts” (one of which was a seven-inning relief appearance in which he replaced an injured Mitch Talbot in the first) before moving to the bullpen to preserve his innings. With the help of Tim Belcher, Masterson created checkpoints in his delivery that helped him down the stretch and propelled him to his thus far undefeated 2011 showing. If what we’re seeing is real (and there’s increasing reason to believe it is), then this guy that so many (myself included) were ready to send back to the bullpen last summer is, in fact, an ace.
Oh, by the way, this was also “Puppypalooza” night at Progressive Field. So… that’s pretty significant, too.
2. Nov. 30, 2007 – Brad Grant promoted to director of amateur scouting
When this move was made, the Indians were a little more than a month removed from ousting the Yankees from the Division Series and taking the Red Sox to the brink in the ALCS. Dopes like me were still talking about how the team was still built to contend in the years to come. So at the time, while this move certainly generated some headlines, it didn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserved, in retrospect.
John Mirabelli, who had been the architect of the Tribe’s previous six Drafts, was given an “expanded role in the procurement of amateur and professional talent,” and Grant took over the Draft itself. With Mirabelli still a major part of the Draft strategizing, it’s not fair to say these specific reassignments in roles were significant on their own. Rather, I’m picking this out as a symbolic date in which the Indians essentially announced that they were rethinking their approach to the scouting and acquisition of amateur talent. In the time since, we’ve seen them use their first-round picks on Lonnie Chisenhall, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, with their 2010 Draft haul resulting in a $9.3 million total investment.
Thus far, White is the only member of those ’08, ’09 or ’10 Draft classes to reach the big leagues, but his arrival is significant. For the Indians to have a pitcher with his stuff and potential ready and waiting at the Triple-A ranks when an injury arose in the rotation has this organization light years ahead of where it was one, two or three years ago.
1. Nov. 6, 2009 – Tim Belcher hired as pitching coach
Throughout the managerial hiring process, I insisted in this space that the pitching coach would likely be an even more meaningful hire, given the state of the Tribe. I think all of us were more than a little curious to see where the Tribe would go with this one, and it was generally assumed they’d look outside the organization, as they did with Acta.
So it was certainly a surprise when the Indians promoted from within and went with Belcher, who had been an adviser to the organization. Belcher, after all, had no previous coaching experience at any level.
But the Indians, who had strongly suggested this hire to Acta (and Acta quickly concurred), knew the impact Belcher had made on some young arms in the system, behind the scenes. In the time since, we’ve seen how well the competitiveness he once displayed on the mound translates to this role, and we’ve seen how much the arms in place can improve when they heed Belcher’s advice about getting ahead in the count. That, more than anything, is why the Indians are, suddenly and unexpectedly, in contention.