Down two runs in the bottom of ninth inning, the Indians were running out of chances. Looking to continue their dominance at home, the Tribe once again needed a late inning miracle, this time against Seattle. Michael Brantley confidently stepped to the plate to lead off the inning, and belted a double to left-center. Though this would later be overshadowed by Travis Hafner’s incredible walk-off home run, Brantley started the rally to win the game. Quietly but dependably, Michael Brantley did what he’s done all season: come through when the team needs him.
In 35 games this season, Brantley is hitting .298 with a .372 on base percentage. Flipping between the 7th spot and the leadoff spot when Grady Sizemore is out of the lineup, Brantley has found success in both places. Since starting the season strong in the leadoff spot, Brantley has been nothing if not consistent. The outfielder hit .297 in April, and has hit .300 thus far into May. Not a power hitter, he belted one home run and had 9 RBI’s in April, while he has hit 2 homers and knocked in 5 in May.
On May 5th, fellow outfielder Trevor Crowe, one of the Indians main twitter-hounds, summed up Brantley nicely.
“Brantley’s been in the middle of a lot of big innings this year! Another one today….”
Though his heroics in that game weren’t in the final inning, Brantley singled and scored in the 6th to give the Indians a 2-1 lead. They would go on to win the game 4-3.
Crowe’s tweet couldn’t be more accurate. With runners on, Brantley is hitting .396. With runners in scoring position, he’s hitting .333. It seems that runners on base improve Brantley’s performance at the plate, allowing him to be in the middle of big innings.
In another late game situation, Brantley was down 0-2 in the count in the bottom of the ninth, but watched 4 straight pitches to earn a bases loaded, walk-off walk against Tampa Bay. After the game, Indians Manager Manny Acta said Brantley is “so mature beyond his age as a hitter.”
Brantley’s maturity has been enormous for the first place Indians. He took over the leadoff spot for the first fourteen games before Sizemore returned. A natural leadoff hitter, Brantley moved to 7th in the lineup when Sizemore took over the leadoff spot without trouble. Though he has struggled in the change, batting just .256 in the 7th hole while hitting .329 as the leadoff, Brantley has not complained.
Sizemore is the star in Cleveland. He belts home runs, knocks in runs, makes incredible plays in the outfield, and is one of the few Indians remaining from their last successful season in 2007. Despite his injuries, the trades of Cliff Lee, C.C Sabathia, and Victor Martinez have made Sizemore the face of the Tribe.
And for Brantley, that’s just fine. He’ll continue to hit for average, slip power in there when he needs to, and continue to quietly play strong in the outfield. When his number gets called for the leadoff spot, Brantley is ready to take over the spotlight. And when it doesn’t, he’ll continue to provide a spark in the 7th spot, one of the most valuable, albeit unheralded, players on this surprisingly successful team.