In this surreal sports summer, which, among other things, has featured Columbus Blue Jackets playoff games in August, there has been an uncanny convergence with my two traditional summer sports teams. Both the Columbus Crew and Cleveland Indians sit in first place with the best defenses in their respective leagues. For the Crew and the Tribe, all it takes on any given day is just one score to win. Sometimes, whether it’s the Indians stranding the runners that don’t erase themselves with boneheaded baserunning blunders, or whether it’s the Crew dillydallying in their possession game against a packed-in defense, it feels like that one score will never ever come. But when the other teams are on a strict goose egg diet, it gives you a lot of leeway on the offensive side of things. You can achieve a whole lot of something when you surrender a whole bunch of nothing. The proof is in the standings.
The first-place Indians have allowed just 2.84 runs per game, the fewest in Major League Baseball. A dazzling collection of young pitchers, led by Cy Young Award and AL MVP favorite Shane Bieber (6-0, 1.20 ERA), have produced six shutouts in just 37 games. And they’ve held the opposition to one run on six other occasions. And two runs on six more occasions. So in 18 of 37 games, they’ve allowed two runs or fewer. (And in one of the games they allowed three runs it took extra innings to get there, so that’s literally the tipping point on allowing two runs or fewer in 50% of their games.) That’s nuts.
The first-place Crew, meanwhile, have hogged possession of the ball so much and have been so stout during the rare occasions they don’t have it that they have produced seven shutouts in just nine games. And they’ve done it despite an injury to starting goalkeeper Eloy Room, which gave understudy Andrew Tarbell a chance to garner two clean sheets of his own. Columbus is allowing a preposterously stingy 0.22 goals against per game, which would barely round up to just eight goals allowed over a standard 34 game season. That’s bonkers.
On Wednesday night, each team was true to form, blanking their opponents. The Crew beat another eastern heavyweight, the Philadelphia Union, 1-0 at MAPFRE Stadium. Over in Kansas City, rookie Triston McKenzie and the Tribe’s bullpen polished off the Royals 5-0. Lucas Zelarayan (one goal) and Tyler Naquin (2-run HR and 3-run HR) provided the offense for their respective teams.
The twin shutouts got me to wondering how many times my summer teams blanked their opposition on the same day. Based on the math alone, I figured it had probably already happened this year. Sure enough, it had, although it apparently didn’t resonate with me like it did Wednesday. It was just 13 days earlier that Bieber and the Tribe won 2-0 in Pittsburgh while Tarbell and the Crew beat Chicago 3-0.
These 2020 double-whitewashings were the 7th and 8th times that the Crew and the Tribe shut out their opponents on the same day in regular season action, and the fifth time that both teams won. Oddly, the Crew technically “lost” one of these shutout games thanks the long-abandoned shootout.
And although it seems like a dual-shutout happening twice in the same season some other year would be an impossible long shot, it actually happened in 2014 as well! That means in 25 seasons, half of the total instances occurred in just 2014 and 2020.
Another cool note is that Crew defender / Tribe fan Josh Williams has played an on-field role for the Crew on three of these occasions, including starts in both of the 2020 zilchfests.
Here are the eight instances in which the Crew and Indians zeroed out the opposition on the same day of league play, with links to the box scores. In parentheses is that day’s starting pitcher and goalkeeper. Steve Clark is the only starting pitcher or goalkeeper to appear twice on this list, so it’s a good cross section of talent over the years.
MAY 5, 1996
Indians 2, @SEA 0 (Dennis Martinez)
Crew 0, @DAL 0 (Bo Oshoniyi)
[Dallas won shootout 3-1]
MAY 9, 1997
Indians 5, @DET 0 (Charles Nagy)
Crew 2, @NE 0 (Brad Friedel)
APRIL 14, 2007
Indians 4, CHW 0 (Paul Byrd)
Crew 0, @RSL 0 (Andy Gruenebaum)
MAY 24, 2014
Indians 9, @BAL 0 (Corey Kluber)
Crew 2, CHI 0 (Steve Clark)
SEPTEMBER 7, 2014
Indians 2, CHW 0 (Carlos Carrasco)
Crew 3, CHV 0 (Steve Clark)
SEPTEMBER 15, 2018
Indians 15, DET 0 (Mike Clevinger)
Crew 0, @DAL 0 (Zack Steffen)
AUGUST 20, 2020
Indians 2, @PIT 0 (Shane Bieber)
Crew 3, CHI 0 (Andrew Tarbell)
SEPTEMBER 2, 2020
Indians 5, @KC 0 (Triston McKenzie)
Crew 1, PHI 0 (Eloy Room)
The next opportunity to add to the list comes this Sunday, September 6. The Indians are at Milwaukee and the Crew host FC Cincinnati.
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