Two days, and two very tough losses for the Cleveland Indians, and each day the storyline seems the same — closer John Axford allowing a home run that loses the game. Sunday it was Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo who clubbed a three-run homer to send Chicago to a stunning 4-3 win in the 9th inning over the Indians. Monday with a scoreless tie in the 10th inning, Minnesota Twins‘ shortstop Eduardo Escobar hit his first homer of the season, on Axford’s second pitch of the inning to lead Minnesota to a 1-0 win to drop the Indians to an AL Central worst 13-19 on the year.
The team has slumped to scoring just five runs in the last 27 innings, but the pitching has led the team. There have been outstanding starts by Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister, but both starts ended in no-decisions with the losses going to Axford who entered Sunday saving 9 of his 10 chances on the season. In 48 hours he’s 0-2 with a blown save and maybe worse — it is unclear what he’s doing on the mound. Manager Terry Francona said Monday afternoon the team noticed Axford leaning over a bit in his pitches Sunday, but Monday it seemed corrected, but the results were the same. “It’s something that has happened to me before in the past, I tend to lean a little too much,” Axford said. “I corrected it tonight, yet my ball was cutting just like it was last night, fastball just wasn’t staying straight.”
Francona had the confidence to go to Axford for the third straight game on Monday, handing him the ball 24 hours after he blew the save Sunday. Monday it was not a save situation, but Axford was called upon again in a tie game as the team was trying to stop their losing streak at one, but with one swing from Escobar, it was not to be.
Axford won’t throw on Tuesday, as it’s unheard of for a manager this early in the year to go to a closer four days straight, and there are other arms in the pen that can get a shot if the game is close or the team has a lead late in the game Tuesday night. Axford said he wouldn’t dwell on the setback. Monday night he looked dejected and devastated that he couldn’t keep the game scoreless so the Indians could get a shot to win it in the 10th with no score. “Same as last night I’m just gonna go back and think about it this evening, go through some things and be ready to go back out tomorrow,” Axford said.
Like any good teammate, McAllister, who went 6.2 tying a career-high with eight strikeouts, stuck up for Axford, telling the media despite the outcome the last two games, there’s no doubt he will be a big part of the team going forward in 2014. “He’s been a huge part of this team, a huge part of every win that we have had,” McAllister said. “We trust him every time we hand him the ball, his stuff is too good not to be good out there, it’s just part of the game right now.” The last two games have brought back memories of the issues that closer Chris Perez had a year ago. He’s now history having his own problems in Los Angeles. The team now needs to get Axford back to feeling good about himself and back to saving games like he was before the failures the last two days.