April 23, 2014

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Blake keeps proving worth

Streak’s over, but Casey’s better than ever

Casey Blake wasn’t quite saying he was relieved. But make no mistake, he’s much more relaxed.
The media onslaught created by his 26-game hitting streak was something of an adjustment for a player not normally used to the camera’s glare.
But Blake’s play has demanded attention. He registered the longest streak in the majors this year, ahead of Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki’s 25, which ended earlier this month. Blake’s streak was the seventh-longest in Indians history and the longest since Sandy Alomar hit in 30 straight in 1997.
“It’s such a hard streak to be on because there’s so much luck involved,” said Blake. “That record is so amazing. I just feel fortunate to be in the lineup for that many days in a row.”
Perhaps the greatest irony is that Blake’s average didn’t exactly skyrocket during that time, rising from .261 to a modest .277. As Blake pointed out, he had just one hit in 19 of those 26 games.
Still, he batted .317 (33-for-104) with seven home runs and 18 RBIs over the 29-day stretch. And it’s not as if he hasn’t been there before. In 1998 at Class A Dunedin, Fla., and Class AA Knoxville, Tenn., he combined for a 31-game streak. He reached base in
60 straight games.
Up to this point, Blake has been a largely anonymous, if underappreciated, figure in his five-year career with the Indians. His offensive production and defense have been solid, but not necessarily spectacular.
Blake’s most notable quality has been his receptiveness to change.
Blake spent his first year in the majors in 2003 manning third base. He agreed to shift to right field two years later as a means of accommodating Aaron Boone, who was signed as a free-agent third baseman. When Boone gave way to prospect Andy Marte, Blake continued to be a man without a position, playing right field, first and third, depending on the day. He never complained.
“One thing that’s always been evident is that he’s a great athlete and a great teammate who’s willing to do what’s best for the team,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge.
Blake’s play at third has been so smooth of late that Marte remains stuck in the minor leagues. Even Wedge was surprised by how quickly Blake’s readjusted to the hot corner.
“I think that’s the reason we made sure he had so many reps at third base in spring training,” said Wedge. “You’re never sure how it’s going to work out.”
While the Indians have sat in first place for the bulk of the season, Blake has been one of the team’s most consistent hitters. It only figures then that the longest streak in the majors would come to an end Monday in Cleveland’s 10-run offensive showing against Philadelphia. Blake stood in the on-deck circle when Josh Barfield flied out in the Indians’ final at-bat.
Blake was far from crestfallen. In his mind, who was he to break Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, perhaps the game’s most hallowed record.
“I didn’t want to break the record,” Blake joked. “People would have been wondering 20 or 30 years down the road, ‘Who is Casey Blake?’ You want the big name in that spot.”
Still, Blake said the streak will be something to savor — if not now, then maybe off in the future.
“When I’m done playing ball, it’s something I can look back on,” he said. “There’s a lot of great hitters that played this game that can’t say they’ve had a 26-game hitting streak.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or palpern@chroniclet.com.

TONIGHT
WHO: Cleveland at Washington
TIME: 7:05
WHERE: RFK Stadium, Washington
PITCHERS: Carmona (8-2, 3.12) vs. Bowie (4-2, 3.78)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM

062207blake.jpgAP
Casey Blake’s 26-game hitting streak is over, but his versatility makes him a favorite of manager Eric Wege.