Game 26: Cleveland Indians
In a set up similar to Atlanta, the La Quinta hotel had a van which ferried guests to the airport. From the airport Kitty and I boarded a train, part of the RTA (Regional Transit Authority) system, into Cleveland city. The system is called the Rapid Transit System but the title is a classic example of an oxymoron. It took about 40 minutes to make the six mile trip. Still, it was pretty comfortable as we took the Red Line from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to Tower City/Public Square. Do not get off at West 117- Madison, it looks like the end of the line, but it isn’t.
We were both impressed with Cleveland itself and made a tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. I would definitely recommend this to any visitor, but allow yourself more than three hours. Next was the walk to Progressive Field down Ontario Street and onto East Ninth Street. We joined the rather pathetic 11,000 crowd on a stunning evening after having a quiet Bud Light at a nearby bar. From almost anywhere in the ballpark it was possible to get outstanding vistas of downtown Cleveland – it was definitely possible in our cheap seats up high above home plate. The ballpark was opened in 1994 and until 2007 was called Jacobs Field or “The Jake”. The dominant feature of the asymmetrical field is the “little green monster”, a 19 foot wall in left field. Above this is the bleacher seats and the 120 foot tall, 222 foot wide scoreboard, the largest free standing scoreboard in the Major Leagues. Beyond centre field is the Market pavilion, an open air food court which offered heaps of choices.
While Progressive Field is known as a hitter’s park, the Cleveland Indians were struggling this year, offensively as well as defensively. They were sitting 16 games behind the leading Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. The Oakland Athletics were firmly in the wild card race at .555, just five games behind my beloved Texas Rangers in the AL West. I hoped that the Indians could get up for this game, but severely doubted it.
Oakland Athletics……….022 010 002 - 7
Cleveland Indians………..000 000 000 – 0
The best things to take out of this night were that the weather was fantastic, the stadium and amenities pristine and the beer reasonably priced. The home team was awful. The Indians lost for the 12th time in the past 13 games. They have also gone through 22 innings without scoring a run.
While pitcher Zach McAllister opened the game with three straight strikeouts it was not a vintage night for the Cleveland pitching staff. From the start of the second innings the Oakland batters starting knocking the ball around and did not finish until the job was completed in the ninth. Seth Smith begun the offence with a single to start the second innings and Chris Carter followed in like manner. Brandon Moss made it 1-0 with a bloop single to left field. The number nine batter, Adam Rosales rolled a single through the left side to score Carter for a 2-0 lead.
The third innings bought more trouble with McAllister, after getting one out, giving up a double to Smith this time, striking out Carter but then being smashed over the centre field wall by Moss to make the score 4–0. The homer measured an impressive 423 feet. Carter added another solo home run in the fifth innings. Quite rightly McAllister was hastily relieved of his post, but Joe Smith was taken apart in the ninth innings with Seth Smith and Josh Reddick completing the scoring for Oakland.
Although the Athletics pitchers looked pretty good I probably should not have been surprised that the pitching staff of the Indians battled. In the Miami Marlins game I mentioned that due to the shrinking of the strike zone and the increase of distance from the pitcher’s mound to the home plate how hard it is to be a pitcher. What I of course did not consider was the changes to the baseballs themselves over time which have also conspired to make the poor old pitchers job a misery. As soon as snap-wrist and overhand pitching was allowed, hitting of course declined. So, not much time was wasted before the ball became “juiced”. The balls though were still a bit stodgy and became difficult to get any real impact into later on in the game.
In 1872 the rules stated that a captain could only request the replacement of a ball “injured” during play. But the balls did get hurt and usually two or three balls were used in a game. As recently as June 29, 1929, the Cubs and the Reds actually played a full nine innings game using just one ball. This was unusual though and in 1925 the National League used 54,030 balls. More balls were being hit over fences, because the dirty, grey, soft balls which were difficult to hit were being taken out of games. The most crucial kick in the guts for the pitcher actually came in 1920. All balls in MLB began to be made with a yarn from Australia. The yarn was stronger than American yarn and so could be wound tighter giving the ball a higher coefficient of restitution, or put simply, it could go further when hit. This, allied to Chapman’s “death by baseball” in the same year, also resulted in balls being replaced more often to ensure that they remained clearly visible to the hitter.
During the war years, because of a shortage of materials, the pitchers had a ball (excuse the pun). The baseballs used were dead and accordingly offence dried up. However peace time turned to hell again for the pitchers. There have constantly been conspiracy theories about balls being juiced or not, including in 1956, when it actually appeared that the reason for an increase in scoring was not that players were hitting more home runs, but that with the advent of power hitters, more players were hitting home runs. From then on, there have been continuous suggestions and counter suggestions and even some truisms about changes to the balls. All have been conspiring to make the ball harder and livelier to aid offence.
These days a standard Rawling baseball is used throughout the leagues. The average life span of a ball is less than six pitches. There are just under 200,000 balls used in an MLB season. The poor old pitcher is constantly dishing up hard, new balls for the batter to have his wicked way with. Yes, it really is a batters game and the Cleveland Indians pitchers bore the brunt of that tonight. Mind you, some half decent catching might have helped them out too!
At the completion of the game, after theorising on the plight of pitching, Kitty and I retraced our steps down Ontario Street to Tower City station, caught the slow train back to the Airport and shuttle to La Quinta. We arrived back at the hotel before mid-night and celebrated a tradesman like game by the A’s and our 26th stadium visit completed with a deserved cool drink.