Bruce’s Walkoff in Tenth Clinches Tribe’s Postseason Berth; Indians 3, Royals 2
Bob Toth | On 14, Sep 2017
Is there anything that this Cleveland Indians team cannot do?
Finding themselves down in the ninth inning for the first time in a 22-game span, the Indians rallied down to their final out to tie the game against Kansas City closer Kelvin Herrera and won the game on a walk-off single the next inning down the right field line by Jay Bruce as the Tribe clinched a trip to the postseason for the second straight year in a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Royals on Thursday night.
Progressive Field has been the home to plenty of dramatics over the years, dating back to the ball park’s first season of existence in 1994. Thursday’s heroics, however, clinched a playoff berth as well as guaranteed the club’s legacy as the first team in Major League history to win 22 consecutive games, without any pesky tie games ruining the club’s streak of wins in a row.
The Indians needed some of the old magic contained in the ball park and got it from an unlikely source in the bottom of the ninth before the face of the franchise delivered with one of his biggest hits of the season.
Trailing in the contest, 2-1, the Royals called upon their closer to hold down the close ball game. The inning started well for Kansas City as Herrera got Yandy Diaz to ground out to short for the first out. Playing the matchup card with his expanded September bench, manager Terry Francona turned to the left-handed hitting Tyler Naquin to pinch-hit for Brandon Guyer against the hard-throwing right-hander Herrera. While the book on Naquin says to fire him high strikes, Herrera took the count to 1-2 against Naquin but could not put him away as Naquin slapped a single through the hole in the left side of the infield to keep the Indians hopes alive. Francona went to his bench a second time, calling on rookie switch-hitter Francisco Mejia to bat for Yan Gomes. He sent a chopper up the middle, converted into a force at second, but Mejia reached safely at first. The lineup flipped over to its last hope, Francisco Lindor, and he drove a 2-2 pitch from Herrera the opposite way deep to left. Alex Gordon had to cover a lot of ground and jumped at the wall, but he was unable to make the game-ending catch. Pinch-runner Erik Gonzalez sprinted around the bases to score from first while Lindor pulled into second with a game-tying double. Herrera retired pinch-hitter Austin Jackson on a grounder to second to send the game to extras.
Cody Allen gave up a one-out single to Alcides Escobar in an inning of work, but came back to strike out Gordon before getting Whit Merrifield to ground into a force out at second, sending the game to the home half of the tenth.
Jose Ramirez led off the tenth with a hit to right-center off of reliever Brandon Maurer. Hustling out of the box, he forced center fielder Lorenzo Cain to rush a throw to second, where Ramirez dove head first into the bag safely with his second double of the night. Edwin Encarnacion fell behind two strikes before working a walk to put two on for Bruce. The Tribe’s August acquisition, who had missed on a chance to tie the game or give the Indians a lead just two innings earlier with a bases loaded pop up to catcher Salvador Perez, took two balls before lacing a double down the right field line. Ramirez scored with ease and the Indians celebrated in shallow center field with a walk-off victory and the club’s 22nd consecutive win during an improbable and historic winning streak.
With the win, the Indians (91-56) kept their chances of a 100-win season alive while establishing a new Major League record, ousting the Chicago Cubs’ 21 consecutive wins record back in 1935. The only debatable streak standing between the Indians and the winningest mark in the game’s history is that of the 1916 New York Giants, who won 12 in a row before a tied contest, which was followed by 14 more wins during an unbelievably lengthy homestand.
The Indians have also clinched at minimum a wild card berth with their win while reducing their magic number to win the American League Central to three games. The Minnesota Twins won in walk-off fashion themselves on Thursday night to prevent the number from dropping further.
Kansas City fell to 72-74 in defeat, further hurting their wild card pursuits.
The Royals ended a long scoreless drought against the Indians to score first in the game in the second inning against Josh Tomlin. The rare walk by the Tribe right-hander came back to bite him as Eric Hosmer reached on the leadoff free pass and moved to third on a single by Perez. Mike Moustakas would ground into a double play, but Hosmer scored to put the Royals up one.
The Indians could not strike through against Royals rookie righty Jake Junis the first two times up, but they evened the score in the third. Abraham Almonte led things off with a double to right. After a strikeout by Gomes and a fly out by Lindor, Lonnie Chisenhall singled to right. Almonte would score, but Chisenhall would get thrown out trying to advance to second to end the inning, but the score was knotted up at one.
The score would remain the same until the sixth, when the Royals would get to Tomlin for another run. Merrifield started the inning with a double to right. He was thrown out by Gomes attempting to go to third on a fielder’s choice by Cain. Melky Cabrera grounded into a fielder’s choice to force Cain at second, but a clutch two-out double the opposite way from Hosmer was missed by Almonte sliding towards the foul line to allow Cabrera to score all the way from first while putting the Royals back in front at 2-1. Joe Smith was summoned from the bullpen and struck out Perez swinging to keep Hosmer stranded at second.
Cleveland threatened in the sixth and knocked Junis out of the game. Ramirez walked with one out, but was caught stealing despite his hand being pushed off of the bag. As would be fitting, Encarnacion sent the next pitch into left field for a base hit. Mike Minor came on to relieve Junis and walked Bruce before getting a groundout from Carlos Santana to end the frame.
Andrew Miller worked the seventh inning in his return from the disabled list and gave up a pair of bloop singles, but got an inning ending double play from Gordon to keep it a 2-1 game.
Minor pitched a routine seventh before Ryan Buchter took over in the eighth. He worked his way into trouble, walking Greg Allen with one out before a double to left by Ramirez putting two in scoring position for the meat of the order. Encarnacion was intentionally walked to bring Bruce up for a lefty-lefty matchup and the KC reliever got the Indians right fielder to foul out behind the plate. Santana stepped in with the bases still loaded, but like Bruce, he popped up in foul territory, where Hosmer made the grab in front of the Kansas City dugout with what appeared to be the last big hope for the Tribe on the night.
Tomlin fell an out short of another quality start. He took the no-decision with five and two-thirds innings of work, allowing two runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts on 79 pitches. Junis similarly did not factor in the decision, working an equal five and two-thirds innings while giving up one run on seven hits with a walk and a strikeout.
Lindor’s big hit extended his hitting streak to eight games. Ramirez went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles, pushing his MLB-leading total to 50. He is now hitting .314 for the season.
Cleveland will look to add yet another win to its impressive total on Friday night when Trevor Bauer (16-8, 4.33 ERA) heads to the mound in search of win number 17 and number ten in a row. Left-hander Jason Vargas (15-10, 4.15) will counter for the Royals. He owns an 8-5 record against the Indians in his career with a 4.18 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 18 starts.
Game time from a sold out Progressive Field in Cleveland is scheduled for a 7:10 PM ET first pitch.
Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images