'Playing the right way' begets Indians walk-off win

Francona managing post-clinch games like playoffs

Alex Hooper
September 20, 2018 - 12:09 am
Sep 19, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians center fielder Jason Kipnis (22) celebrates his game-winning grand slam in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Playoff baseball is nigh. A September 19 post-clinch game against the 59-91 Chicago White Sox is not playoff baseball.

Regardless of whether or not the contest matters, Cleveland Indians Manager Terry Francona has hammered home the idea of ‘playing the game the right way.’ Never mind that the Tribe offense was completely punchless for the first eight innings, they – at the very least – finished the game the right way.

The night will be remembered for Jason Kipnis’ walk-off grand slam, which also served as his 1000th career hit. It was how it came to be that will be the most important aspect, if the game is remembered at all.

“Two weeks from now, nobody is going to care that we won a game in the 9th inning, but that’s what you set out to do today is to win, and we did,” Francona said. “To let the guys feel that feeling of jumping on Kip and congratulating him, and what led up to it, that’s a good feeling.”

Obviously, the Indians never quit fighting, perhaps most personified by Josh Donaldson – and his troublesome calves – legging out an infield single to start the inning.

That is just how it started.

The bottom of the 9th served as Francona to do his job like it was an elimination game. The decision to insert Rajai Davis as a pinch-runner, while not a novel idea, proved most fruitful as the speedster faked a steal against Caleb Frare, drawing shortstop Tim Anderson to second base. Pinch-hitter Yandy Díaz, inserted to capitalize against the lefty, promptly pulled a slider through the hole that was created.

Whether or not it was prompted, Melky Cabrera’s ensuing sacrifice bunt attempt back to Frare was not the finest moment for the skipper.

Regardless of its ups and downs, the ability to experiment with possible 25-man roster scenarios are a worthwhile thought exercise.

Francona utilized Davis and Diaz, then pinch hit Allen for Diaz, raising plenty of hypotheticals about the playoff roster. Will Davis and Allen, essentially clones of each other for all intents and purposes, each make the roster? If Diaz was simply to be lifted for Allen on the base paths, does that mean Francona prefers him over Brandon Guyer against left-handers?

Luckily these things do not need ironed out on September 19, but with the American League Central wrapped up, the Indians were able to get a glimpse of what a Allen-Davis combo looked like.

The decisions may already be made, but why not take that look?

“In September, you can certainly do more of that,” Francona said. “We’re trying not to do too much because the game will revert back, but when you have guys that are able to do it, you might as well take advantage of it.”

A walk-off grand slam will always send everybody but the opposition home feeling good, and it makes it easy to forget the first eight frames against a forgettable club. Yet what mattered is that Francona’s bunch played the right way.

“We seem to get the tying run to the plate more times than not, and some good things happen when you do,” he said.