Pictured: Flames Engulf Progressive Field
CLEVELAND, OH - Heartening news for Indians fans tonight, as word has just come down that the entire Indians relief corps has been placed under arrest for arson. The group was apprehended after a particularly egregious episode of firestarting behavior while on national television late Monday night, during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers were trailing by 4 runs in the top of the 8th inning, 12-8. As the score indicated, both teams were hitting the ball well. "We really felt like our guys were giving us a chance to win up there at the plate," said beleaguered Indians manager Eric Wedge. "You usually feel pretty comfortable with your chances to pick up a win when you put up 12 like that."
And yet, signs of the Indians relievers apparent torching of their team's chances surfaced as early as the 6th inning. Cleveland boasted an 8-6 lead after both starters submitted lackluster performances, but RHP Greg Aquino allegedly surrendered a single to Milwaukee SS J.J. Hardy, who advanced to second on a subsequent single, then to third on an Aquino wild pitch. Witnesses say he scored shortly after, as 2B Craig Counsell hit a sacrifice fly to score him.
With the score 8-7, the action turned to the 7th. The Indians, evidently feeling the imminent implosion, scored 4 more runs to create a 5-run lead. And yet, according to witnesses, Aquino was docked another run in the bottom of the frame when his runner, Ryan Braun, scored after Corey Hart hit a sacrifice fly against RHP Luis Vizcaino. Brewers relievers held fast in the top of the 8th, at which point Vizcaino allegedly took his fateful turn on the mound.
What follow is all according to witness testimony. Vizcaino induced a flyout on the first batter, then walked the next two, prompting his removal. At this point, RHP Matt Herges entered the game, promptly walking a third batter and then surrendering an RBI single to LF Ryan Braun. With the bases loaded, Wedge signaled for left-handed Rafael Perez to pitch to Milwaukee's left-handed slugger, Prince Fielder. This was done to gain a tactical advantage over the hitter; however, the reader will note that Perez, to this point, was allowing left-handed batters to hit at a .382/.463/.529 clip. If true, this information suggests that Wedge may have been complicit in the ensuing inferno.
Immediately subsequent to Perez's entry, he allegedly grooved a fastball on the inner half of the plate to Fielder, who deposited it in the right-center field stands for a grand slam and the 13-12 lead. Perez then remained in the game, allowing a single, a walk, and then another single to add gasoline to the blaze. At 14-12, bystander Joe Smith entered the scene and put out the raging flames with a lineout and a strikeout of the final two batters of the game.
"It's just something where you see something awful going on, and do what you can to stop it," explained Smith after the game. "It's really just a case where I think that anyone would've done what I did."
Cleveland fans seemed glad to see that perceived justice was being upheld. "These guys have just been running wild for too long," said Angela Lang, a fan in Section 307 at Progressive Field. "It's good that we're finally taking steps to get these guys off the streets."
While this is the first time the bullpen has officially been brought up on charges, they have been suspected in previous firestarting episodes throughout the season. The group as a whole has been involved with 11 blown saves as compared to 12 saves, and, as a whole, provides negative support for their starting pitchers, at .671 runs below average - meaning starters sacrifice .671 runs every time the bullpen takes over. Further, only two of them has a sub-4.00 ERA in at least 10 innings of action, though the aforementioned Perez's ERA actually went down from the 15.00-range to just under 12 after last night's performance.
Defense attorneys seem likely to point to this improvement as well as the demotion of Masa Kobayashi after 9.1 innings as evidence that the pitchers are trying to rehabilitate themselves and also that team is aware of and trying to correct the heinous actions of their bullpen. There also remains the question of how to try Matt Herges; his 1.93 ERA in 18 innings suggests that tonight's actions constituted a first-time offense that does not deserve the same punishment as repeat offenders like, for example, free agent signee Kerry Wood.
The trial proceedings are scheduled to begin at some point this week. The bullpen, with the exception of Smith, are being held on bail in Cuyahoga County Jail. The group is facing charges of first-degree arson, which carries a sentence of 5-15 years of prison time as well as a $50,000 fine each. Prosecutors say they are going to seek the maximum allowable penalties.