It was a tale of two cities here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario on a cool and crisp Tuesday night, or should I say, a tale of two players.
“It was the best of times…” for the Cleveland Indians’ designated hitterJason Giambi, who launched a two-run homer into the September night sky, sending the Lake Erie Warriors home winners in a game that looked to have gotten away from them in the top half of the inning.
“It was the worst of times…” for the Cleveland Indians’ closer Chris Perez, who entered the game with a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth, then squandered it after giving up a lead-off home run to the White Sox number seven hitter Dayan Viciedo, and a two-out home run to the Chicago White Sox lead-off hitter Alejandro De Aza.
“It was the age of wisdom…” in 2013 for the Indians’ Giambi. The 2000 American League MVP took the rare step of admitting that he used steroids after the 2004 season, and has rebuilt his career as an important role player ever since. He’s done such an impressive job at the cultivation of his image since then that he very nearly became the Colorado Rockies manager prior to the 2013 season, without any managerial experience. He came to the Indians after Walt Weiss was named manager of the Rockies, looking for one last season as a player. He found it with Tito Francona, a manager who he had much respect for, and who reciprocated that respect in many, many ways.
“It was the age of foolishness…” in 2013 for the Indians’ Perez. The 2011 & 2012 American League All-Star has found himself in a maelstrom of controversy this season and last. I’m not trying to jump in the middle of that controversy, only pointing it out. Chris Perez made several comments in 2012 regarding Cleveland Indians fans and the front office. Many of his comments were 100% correct, but outspoken players often find targets on their backs.
Perez has struggled in 2013 on the field with a noticeable drop in velocity and performance, and off the field with an arrest for a possible narcotics delivery to his home. I don’t expect athletes to be perfect. That’s just not fair. I also know that if you put the spotlight on yourself, right or wrong, you have to take what might come if things go south. Things have gone south. Has Perez been foolish? I’ll let the court of public opinion decide that.
“It was the epoch of belief…” last night at Progressive Field, as the 21,000+ was electrified by Giambi’s late inning heroics. Francona has often been criticized for his choice of making Jason Giambi the 25th man on his bench. No, not because he ISN’T an extra coach on this team, but because his offensive numbers just aren’t that good when you look at his overall performance.
Being a spot DH is more than that though. Being a pinch hitter is more than that though. A 25th man on a roster has to know HOW to step in a game and make something happen without any rust. A 25th man on a roster has to have no ego. A 25th man IS Jason Giambi. This was Jason Giambi’s 10th career walk-off homer. This was Jason Giambi’s second pinch-hit, walk-off this season. Giambi just broke his own record as the OLDEST player to hit a walk-off homer. He broke the record held by Hank Aaron.
Giambi used to be a beast of an offensive player. He’s hit 40 or more homers three times. He’s hit 30 or more homers eight times. He’s hit 20 or more homers 11 times.
Special…steroids or not.
He hasn’t been special with regards to numbers since 2008, his last season with the Yankees. He hit 32 homers and drove in 96 runs. Since then, he hasn’t hit over .260, hasn’t hit more than 13 homers, hasn’t been special as an offensive producer.
He’s just been special everywhere else, in particular, in the clubhouse.
What Giambi has done is special when you think about it. Players are crucified for use of steroids, but Giambi has not only overcome that stereotype, but flourished. He’s been humble, yet outspoken. He’s been truthful, and open.
It’s called respect, and that’s not always about numbers.
“It was the epoch of incredulity…” last night when Chris Perez walked out on the mound. It’s the nature of the closing business, and Cleveland Indians’ fans know it all too well. This team has had some interesting closers on the mound over the past 20 years. There were the bad Jose Mesa years (he had some incredible ones too), and the Bob Wickman years, and the failed Fausto experiment, and the Joe Borowski years. To be fair to Perez, he hasn’t always been an untrustworthy closer.
Perez was electric in 2010, his first season as the Tribe’s primary closer. His ERA was a stellar 1.71. He saved 23 games. His fastball averaged nearly 95 MPH. He was everything the Indians hadn’t had in a closer, and needed.
Perez fell off in 2011 with velocity. It saw an over MPH drop, and his K-Rate dropped from 8.71 per nine in 2010 to 5.88 per nine in 2011. His ERA rose from 1.71 to 3.32. He saved 36 games, but it wasn’t a walk in the park.
Perez rebounded in 2012, and his velocity bounced back up to 94 MPH. He was overall, very good, saving 39, with only four blown saves. His four blown saves were extremely noticeable, including an opening day implosion that cost Justin Masterson a win. On the year, he only had five games of giving up multiple earned runs. His blown saves were big, but overall, he was very good. Of course, that was the year he felt some ire and support from his statements. The spotlight was placed firmly on him, and he seemed to revel in that.
Then came his 2013 season. His velocity dropped to 92.8, a full MPH below his 2012 average, and two full MPH off his 2010 average. He’s struggled in nearly every outing. He’s been arrested. I hate throwing both in there, but it’s hard not to look at the complete package that comes with Chris Perez. He’s an out there guy, and that hasn’t been kind to him this year. The disbelief that many felt when he walked out to the mound on Tuesday was earned. The disbelief that many felt when he gave up not one, but two homers, was exactly why.
“It was the season of Light…” for the Cleveland Indians in 2013, and while Giambi isn’t the central focus of that light, other than during his many big game moments, he’s a microcosm of the mentality that has made this team special. There was an intense discussion at Indians Baseball Insider over the past couple of days about a specific MVP of the team, with several folks pointing to Yan Gomes and Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis.
Fellow IBI columnists Michael Hattery, Steve Orbanek and I had this very conversation a few days ago on Cleveland Sports Insiders, and at the end of the conversation we were convinced that this team’s MVP is, well, the team. I mentioned it last week in my Corner piece, discussing how even this team has been. Steve Orbanek alluded to it discussing how unconventional this team has been over the past year.
Yan Gomes and Ryan Raburn have been surprise blasts of offense. The entire rotation has come up big at one time or another. Danny Salazar shows up when Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco implode. Kipnis carried the team for a month. Reynolds carried the team for a month. Carlos Santana continues to be the best overall offensive player, from a consistency standpoint. The bullpen has pulled it together in the second half.
And what about Michael Brantley? Has he ever not had a big hit?
This is a special team, led by a special coaching staff, and Jason Giambi showed the masses just how special all 25 players are…or maybe 24.
“It was the season of Darkness…” at times during the 2013 season. This team has had stretches of ungodly bad. Directly after a 22-4 run, they went 4-18. This team has lost five or more in a row five times. Twice in August, once in June, once in May, and once in April. That’s right, they’ve been an equal opportunity squanderer.
The offense has been deplorable at times, and the bullpen was one of the worst during a long stretch at the beginning of the season. This team has been written off several times. At the heart of that have been the struggles of one Chris Perez. Sure, he’s been okay, but he’s allowed too many base runners, struggled too many times, and while he’s not the worst reliever in baseball (he’s actually not close), he’s not a very good closer.
It puts this team behind an eight-ball of sorts heading through the last five baseball games of the season. They don’t have a true back-up for Perez, which leaves them in a quandary. Do they keep him in that spot, or do they have a tryout of sorts to end the year? It’s not an easy question to answer, especially when the replacements are the wily Joe Smith, the headcase in Carrasco, the unproven in Bryan Shaw, the rookie Cody Allen or the veteran Matt Albers.
Can this team win meaningful playoff games with Chris Perez as their closer?
I’m afraid to answer that out loud, but unfortunately, we may have to watch the answer live and in living color.
Train wreck anyone?
It was the spring of hope” after thinking that “it was the winter of despair” here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Why? Because Jason Giambi gave this team their 87th victory of the 2013 season, after struggling to win 68 games in 2012. With five games left, the Indians are only one game behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the top wildcard spot. They are a game ahead of the Texas Rangers for the second wildcard spot.
It’s really hard to fathom when you really think about it.
This team has taken us on every roller coaster that Cedar Point has to offer this year. They win games. They lose games. They dominate, they get dominated. They get beat up…and they overcome.
And they should be a playoff team, yet they really shouldn’t.
Ask the national pundits.
Ask the local media.
Don’t ask them, just go back and look at their early season predictions.
The Cleveland Indians shouldn’t hold the keys to the playoffs.
But they do…
Ask a starting rotation that’s led by Ubaldo Jimenez.
Ask a bench that’s led by Ryan Raburn.
Ask a bullpen that’s led by Joe Smith.
Ask a lineup and defense that’s led by Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley.
Ask Jason Giambi…
…who wouldn’t be on this roster if many would have had their say in it.
And if he wasn’t, would this article have started with,
“It was the best of times?”
Thanks to Chris Perez and his ill-timed implosion, I highly doubt it.