- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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One of the great things about baseball: A routine Monday night of baseball, a night without aces throwing 15-strikeout gems or dramatic walk-off home runs or crazy bat-throwing incidents can suddenly turn into a memorable evening when a player has one of those games to remember.
Fifty years from now, no matter what happens the rest of his career, Lonnie Chisenhall will always have this game: 5-for-5, three home runs, nine RBIs.
Lots of guys go 5-for-5, of course. Well, not a lot, but it happens with some frequency. Chisenhall is the fourth player to do it this season; it happened 15 times last year and has now happened 257 times since 2000.
Fewer players go for 5-for-5 with at least three home runs. That's happened just 14 times now since 1914 (via Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index). Three others players went 6-for-6 with at least three home runs (Shawn Green, Edgardo Alfonzo, Ty Cobb).
But 5-for-5 with three home runs and nine RBIs? Never been done before ... not quite. Fred Lynn went 5-for-6 with three home runs and 10 RBIs for the Red Sox on June 18, 1975. Gil Hodges went 5-for-6 with four home runs and nine RBIs for the Dodgers on Aug. 31, 1950. Josh Hamilton went 5-for-5 with four home runs and a double but just eight RBIs on May 8, 2012. Green went 6-for-6 with four home runs and a double but a mere seven RBIs on May 23, 2002.
Lonnie Chisenhall just created a new category of excellent. How's that for a day to remember?
Surprisingly, of the 33 previous players since 1914 to drive in at least nine runs in a game, only three had a perfect day at the plate: Vladimir Guerrero went 4-for-4 (two home runs, nine RBIs) for the Angels on June 2, 2004; Danny Tartabull went 5-for-5 (two home runs, nine RBIs) for the Yankees on Sept. 8, 1992; and Jim Bottomley went 6-for-6 (two home runs, 12 RBIs) for the Cardinals on Sept. 16, 1924.
Great games. But not a Lonnie.
So no matter how you slice it, it's one of the great individual hitting performances in major league history.
How did Chisenhall's night unfold? Like this:
Second inning, 1-1 changeup from Martinez: Two-run, line-drive homer to right.
Fourth inning, 1-1 sinker from Scott Baker: Two-run homer to right-center.
Sixth inning, 1-2 sinker from Baker: RBI double to center field (after fouling off three pitches with two strikes).
Eighth inning, 2-2 slider from Baker: Three-run home run to right field (after fouling off two pitches with two strikes).
Chisenhall was heralded several years ago as a future star, a lefty bat with a picture-perfect swing. In his first two stints in the majors in 2011 and 2012, he struggled with the strike zone, drawing just 16 walks in 374 plate appearances while striking out 76 times. Handed the third-base job last season, he struggled out of the gate, hitting .213 with a .253 through May 12, earning a 27-game demotion to Triple-A, where he hit .390. Back in the majors, he hit better after that except for a miserable .145 mark in August. His cumulative line (.225/.270/.398 with 11 home runs in 289 at-bats) was bad enough that Indians decided to convert catcher Carlos Santana to third base.
Most didn't pay attention to Chisenhall entering the season. He was still only 25, but we looked at three failed chances in the majors and saw a guy who wasn't going to hit, another failed prospect. We ignored the age, the fact that he still had just 682 career PAs in the majors and, most importantly, that sweet southpaw swing.
Now he's hitting .385/.429/.615. I heard an interview with Terry Francona last week in which he said Chisenhall made the team only because of a great spring. The Indians were committed to Santana at third base, had Mike Aviles around to fill in and didn't really know what they'd do with Chisenhall, but Francona felt he earned his way onto the team. Now he's earned his way into the lineup.
Is Chisenhall doing anything differently? It's hard to say. He's still chasing a lot of pitches out of the zone -- 38 percent of the time, compared to 35.5 percent last year. So it doesn't appear to be more a disciplined approach that's helping. He's simply squaring up a lot more balls -- he has a 28 percent line-drive rate compared to 18 percent a year ago. In particular, he's squaring up fastballs: A .395 average versus .215. It could just be that experience has finally kicked in, learning to attack in hitter's counts or reading pitches better.
Is he this good? Well, I don't think he's this good. The high chase rate remains a concern, and the line drive is probably unsustainable. But some of this improvement should be for real. We're going to see more of him at third and more of Santana at first or DH, that's for sure.
Combined with Detroit's loss to the White Sox, the Indians are now just two games back of the Tigers. Their lineup is one of the few in the league that runs eight or nine deep, and Santana and Jason Kipnis haven't delivered much yet. If Chisenhall keeps hitting, the Indians are going to score runs and maybe, just like last year, give the Tigers a good run.
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