Seven and one-third quality innings from Josh Tomlin and another key sacrifice fly from Francisco Lindor lifted the Cleveland Indians past the Kansas City Royals, 3-2, on the final day of the regular season.
With much riding on the start, Tomlin helped pitch the Indians into home field advantage for their American League Division Series with the Boston Red Sox later this week with his stellar work on the mound. An aggressive Royals lineup saw first pitch strikes all afternoon long, but was only able to scratch across two runs against the resurgent Cleveland right-hander, whose strong work in September and in his lone October start restored confidence among those watching him after some dramatic struggles earlier in the second half of the season.
The Indians wasted a one-out double in the first by Jason Kipnis off of Ian Kennedy, as Cleveland would strand him at third with two outs. The double returned in the bottom of the frame as the Royals jumped on Tomlin quickly to take the early lead. On the first pitch of the inning, Jarrod Dyson doubled to right and Whit Merrifield followed with one of his own to left to drive home Dyson. Just as the Indians did earlier in the inning, the Royals would strand a runner at third, but left with a 1-0 lead.
Kennedy got burned by free base runners in the third, just as was the case for the club the night before as walks came back to haunt the Royals on Saturday. Tyler Naquin, down 0-2, was hit by a pitch. On the very next pitch, catcher Yan Gomes swung on the first offering and deposited it over the wall in left for a clutch two-run homer to give the Indians a 2-1 lead.
Kansas City tied the game in the bottom of the fifth. Cheslor Cuthbert homered just over the wall in center to start the home half, tying the game at 2-2. Tomlin retired the side in order to start a stretch of ten straight set down to end his afternoon.
Kennedy was in a similar stretch for Kansas City, retiring 13 in a row after a leadoff single from Jose Ramirez to start the fourth. That run ended with a walk by Carlos Santana with one out in the eighth. Kipnis followed with a double to right, putting a pair of runners in scoring position for the MLB sacrifice fly leader in Lindor. He delivered with a fly to right, scoring Santana with the go-ahead run on his 15th sac fly of the season. Kennedy’s day ended a batter later after walking Mike Napoli, but reliever Joakim Soria struck out Ramirez swinging to leave to big runners on base.
Tomlin started the eighth, retiring Drew Butera on a grounder to first before Andrew Miller entered, striking out Billy Burns and getting a grounder to short from Merrifield.
The Indians went down in order in the ninth as Wade Davis struck out a pair, leaving it a one-run game for Cody Allen in the final frame. He got a grounder from Daniel Nava to first before walking Salvador Perez on four straight. Terrance Gore pinch-ran, but just as the last time the two teams met, catcher Roberto Perez threw out Gore attempting to steal for a huge second out with Paulo Orlando at the plate. Down to the final strike of the regular season, Orlando struck out swinging to end it.
The Indians (94-67) got the win that they needed and then the other chips fell into place shortly after. The Baltimore Orioles clinched an AL Wild Card berth with a victory over the New York Yankees. The Braves knocked off the Detroit Tigers, who were eliminated from postseason contention. The Toronto Blue Jays held off a late Red Sox charge to win 2-1, clinching home field for the Wild Card game while giving the Indians home field for the ALDS and erasing any need for Cleveland and Detroit to make up last Thursday’s rain out on Monday afternoon.
The Royals (81-81) were swept at Kauffman Stadium, a place where they had played excellent baseball throughout the season. The three-game sweep prevented the Royals from posting a winning record in a disappointing season following their world championship just one season ago. They ended the year with four chances to win an 82nd game to guarantee a winning record, but were unable to finish.
TOMLIN TAKES CONTROL
Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA) worked seven and one-third innings in an encouraging outing against the Royals to conclude his regular season. The win gave him a career-high 13th on the year.
He allowed two runs on six hits with three strikeouts and no walks. He did allow a home run to tie the game, but it was a solo shot. He threw 64 of 88 pitches for strikes (72.7%) and was first-pitch strike to 20 of the 27 batters that he faced.
After going 0-5 with an 11.48 ERA, ten homers allowed, and a .365 batting average against in five August starts, Tomlin went 2-1 down the stretch in his last five games (four starts) with five earned runs allowed in 26 2/3 innings (1.69 ERA). In that span, he allowed 21 hits (just one home run) and did not issue a walk (0.79 WHIP) while striking out ten.
“I’ve never really experienced the postseason so I know I’ll be ready when that time comes,” said Tomlin after his start. “We knew we put ourselves in good position.”
KENNEDY ENDS YEAR WITH QUALITY START
Kennedy (11-11, 3.68) entered his final start with a 2-3 record against the Indians this season with a plump 5.76 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. Making his sixth start of the year against Cleveland after throwing just twice against the club in his first nine MLB seasons, Kennedy was better, but it still resulted in a loss.
He allowed three runs on four hits with a pair of walks and three strikeouts in seven and two-thirds innings. He threw 110 pitches on the afternoon (75 for strikes) and hit two Indians batters. He added three strikeouts.
ON TO THE ALDS
The Royals will head off into their offseason, but the season is just getting started for the Indians, who will return home to continue their World Series hopes. They will play next against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday with the start of their best-of-five series.
Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26) will be the Game 1 starter for Cleveland. He ended his season with a quality start and no-decision against Kansas City. Boston will send out right-hander Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.15), who will continue his impressive campaign with his first postseason appearance since 2013 while with the Tigers, when he lost in relief to the eventual champion Red Sox. He last started a playoff game in the 2011 ALCS against Texas.
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