The Indians are still not hitting. And John Axford took it on the chin for the second day in a row.
Eduardo Escobar greeted Axford by hitting only his 20th career homer in 2,466 major-league at-bats. It was the only score of the night, as the Minnesota Twins defeated the host Indians 1-0 in 10 innings on Monday.
Axford (0-3), the Tribe’s closer, had allowed Dayan Viciedo’s three-run, ninth-inning homer in a come-from-ahead 4-3 loss to the White Sox on Sunday. This time Axford did not appear in the closer role, but again became the target of boos from the fans — at least the ones who were there. Escobar, who had entered the contest as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, took one pitch — a ball — before driving the next offering into the right-field seats.
“Mickey (Callaway, the pitching coach) actually thought (Axford) looked better (than on Sunday),” manager Terry Francona said. “He just mislocated. He was trying to go down and away, and he missed by a lot.”
Axford related that he had worked on a mechanical adjustment that he corrected from Sunday, but agreed that he missed his location on the decisive pitch.
“It was a fastball that came back over the plate,” he said.
Minnesota (15-15, 3 consecutive wins) proceeded to put men on the corners with no outs, but Axford and Marc Rzepczynski were able to avoid further damage. Enough had been done already, however, as Twins closer Glen Perkins was able to close it out by setting the side in order, finishing a night of futility with the Cleveland bats.
That, in fact, probably remains the larger concern with the team — that they are struggling mightily to put runs on the scoreboard. In fact, if they would have managed even one in the initial 9 frames, the outcome may very well had been a much better one for the Tribe, which has managed just 30 runs in the last 10 games despite tallying 12 on Friday.
This time, the Indians (13-19) were shackled by starter Kyle Gibson and relievers Brian Duensing, Caleb Thielbar (winner, 2-0) and Perkins (8th save). The 4 hurlers combined to allow a paltry 3 hits while walking 3 batters, and thanks to a double play and a caught stealing, faced 4 batters over the minimum. The Tribe, in fact, never got a runner as far as third base.
“We got into some hitters’ counts; we hit some balls hard,” Francona said. “We just are fairly inconsistent right now. Even in hitters’ counts, we’re not getting real good swings.
“Tonight was a good night to pitch. The ball wasn’t going anywhere and it’s cold. We need more consistency.”
Cleveland, participated in its first extra-inning game of the season, thus becoming the final team in the majors to do so.
Zach McAllister pitched splendidly for the Tribe. The right-hander went 6 2/3 innings without giving up a run, while allowing five hits and a walk. He struck out 8 batters, tying a career-high.
The Twins threatened against McAllister in the sixth when with one out, Sam Fuld doubled and stole third. However, McAllister proceeded to get both Trevor Plouffe and Chris Colabello to look at a called third strike.
McAllister left with men on first and second and 2 outs in the seventh. Bryan Shaw replaced him, and retired Escobar on a ground ball to second to keep it scoreless.
“I thought I commanded the ball pretty well tonight,” McAllister said. “I was able to be aggressive in the strike zone and got some quick outs, but I was also able to get some strikeouts.”
“I don’t know if I’d ever say ‘wasting,’ Francona said when asked about McAllister’s effort. “I love to get great pitching. “Zach pitched so well. He pitched with his fastball and he worked ahead. He pitched out of a couple jams, but man, he was so good. And that’s 2 in a row (after Corey Kluber’s stellar effort on Sunday), where that’s about as good as they’re gonna pitch.
“There’s certainly not much wiggle room right now. But I still like the way our guys pitched.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Axford said. “It’s a shame that my performances over the last 2 days are going to (negate) a great hitting performance by George (Kottaras, who homered in his first 2 career at-bats with the Indians on Sunday) and 2 great pitching performances. So hopefully everyone knows that those guys are doing their best and working hard, and doing fantastic for us.”
Gibson turned in one of Minnesota’s defensive gems when he had to reach behind him to take a throw from second baseman Brian Dozier and then reach out with his leg to tag first base to retire Michael Brantley to lead off the fourth.
Dozier had made a diving stop of Brantley’s ground ball.
Cody Allen also pitched for Cleveland.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.