CLEVELAND -- Zach McAllister turned on the mound and expected to see the fly ball tailing and falling into the glove of Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. Instead, the reliever wore a look of disbelief as the baseball carried just over the right-field wall down the line.
Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo settled into a home run trot after that seventh-inning meeting of strength and luck on Friday night, dealing the critical blow in a 6-4 loss for the Indians at Progressive Field. On this evening, McAllister's bread-and-butter pitch betrayed him against a team that knows precisely what to do when a fastball is not up to snuff.
Cleveland headed into the seventh inning caught in a 3-3 deadlock with Baltimore, following a slow-and-steady comeback from a three-run hole in the first. Indians manager Terry Francona handed the ball to McAllister, who has mostly been a reliable setup man for that particular inning, posting a 2.87 ERA in his 19 appearances leading up to Friday's game.
Even with Baltimore's reputation for hunting fastballs effectively, Francona liked the way things were stacking up. McAllister, who relies heavily on a four-seamer, was set to face the heart of the Orioles' order. That includes Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Trumbo -- a trio that had gone 4-for-23 (.174 average) combined against the big hard-throwing right-hander.
"There were some guys he's gotten out," Francona noted. "Now, they're pretty good hitters. Sometimes [with] velocity like Zach's, if you pitch in, it'll open the plate up."
Heading into Friday's action, Baltimore's .312 batting average against four-seam fastballs was the third-best mark in the Majors behind only the Pirates (.350) and Red Sox (.330). McAllister came into the night featuring his fastball 82.6 percent of the time this season, representing the highest rate of his career. It made sense then that McAllister worked in 10 breaking balls, compared to 13 fastballs on Friday.
"You can go back and look at the game today," McAllister said. "I threw some pretty good breaking balls, and I threw more breaking balls than I have in the past. I thought they were good pitches."
Four of the first eight pitches McAllister threw were breaking balls, including three straight sliders to Machado that ran their battle to a 2-2 count. That is when the right-hander entered a seven-pitch sequence that proved to be his undoing, though. Beginning with his sixth pitch to Machado, McAllister fired seven consecutive fastballs ranging from 94-96 mph.
Machado delivered a one-out double to the wall in left field to ignite Baltimore's rally. Davis then saw five straight fastballs and pulled a 2-2 heater into the right-center field gap for a run-scoring double of his own, pushing the Orioles to a 4-3 lead. One pitch later, Trumbo hacked at a 95-mph fastball that tailed over the middle, sending it arcing high down the right-field line, where it fell just beyond the wall for a two-run shot.
"I didn't think it was a homer off the bat," McAllister said. "But then, I turned around and it kept going. I knew he hit it well, but I didn't think he got all of it. Again, he's a good hitter. He's strong. When you have strength, you can still hit homers even when you don't get all of it."
From there, McAllister returned to a healthy mix of fastballs and breaking balls, generating back-to-back flyouts to center to end the inning.
The damage, however, had already been done.
"When I threw my fastball, sometimes they were elevated too much, and too much plate," McAllister said. "It wasn't a [case] of throwing too many fastballs today. I thought today I had a better mix than I had in the past. I just didn't execute them."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.