The Cleveland Indians will return to the American League Championship Series as they stormed into Boston and completed the three-game ALDS sweep of the host Red Sox, 4-3, on Monday night.
Cleveland’s story book season will continue on as one of the stars of the game, David Ortiz, closed the final chapter of his. Josh Tomlin gave the Indians a strong start on the mound, Tyler Naquin and Coco Crisp had two big RBI each, and the Cleveland bullpen held on for a nailbiter of a finish at Fenway Park before champagne flowed for the second time this season for the underdog Tribe.
On a national stage, the story of Ortiz’s farewell overshadowed what was an entertaining, heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat kind of game that screamed playoffs. It served as yet another reminder for the overlooked and possibly overachieving Indians ball club that they will have to keep on winning to get the respect that they deserve.
College teammates Tomlin and Clay Buchholz took to the mound on a chilly 55 degree night from Massachusetts, with Buchholz in a bind with Boston’s backs to the wall, needing to win all three of the remaining ALDS games to extend its season.
The Indians put runners on in each of the first three innings against Buchholz, but could not bring anyone home. Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor each reached in the first, Lonnie Chisenhall singled to start the second, and Lindor doubled with two down in the third, but Buchholz worked his way out of each jam. Tomlin had an easier time of it, putting two on in the second on a walk to Ortiz to lead off the frame before giving up a single to Xander Bogaerts, but a double play ball off of the bat of rookie Andrew Benintendi wasted a golden opportunity for the Red Sox.
Cleveland kept the stream of base runners flowing in the fourth, as Jose Ramirez singled to right and Chisenhall drew a walk. Crisp sacrificed both runners up 90 feet and Naquin delivered his first career postseason hit, a two-run single to right to give the Indians a 2-0 lead.
After just eight pitches from Tomlin in the bottom of the fourth, pitching with his first lead of the night, Boston brought on left-hander Drew Pomeranz for Buchholz. The former Indians first rounder retired the side in order with a pair of strikeouts before the Red Sox struck quickly in the bottom half of the inning to cut the Indians lead to one. With one out, Bogaerts singled to center and alertly scored on a double off of the wall in left from Benintendi and a bad relay throw from Crisp to make it a 2-1 game. Tomlin left the runner at second, striking out Sandy Leon and getting Jackie Bradley Jr. to ground out to first.
The Indians responded the next half inning against Pomeranz. Ramirez worked a leadoff walk and was sacrificed to second on a hard bunt from Chisenhall. Crisp stepped in and on a 1-2 pitch, lifted a high drive to left that cleared the Green Monster for a two-run home run to extend the Cleveland lead to 4-1.
Tomlin started the bottom half of the inning, but after a single from Dustin Pedroia, he turned the game over to Andrew Miller. He struck out pinch-hitter Aaron Hill, but Mookie Betts doubled to left to put two in scoring position while bringing the tying run to the plate in Ortiz. He would drive one of the runners home with a sacrifice fly to center, but Hanley Ramirez struck out swinging to leave the score 4-2.
The Red Sox bullpen did its job after the homer by Crisp, retiring each of the final eleven Indians hitters to step to the plate, which allowed Boston to continue to chip away at the Cleveland lead.
Miller worked a quieter seventh, issuing only a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Chris Young before turning the game over to Bryan Shaw to begin the eighth. Shaw gave up a pinch-hit single with one out to Travis Shaw, who was forced out at second on a grounder to third by Betts. The right-hander was lifted for Cody Allen with Ortiz coming to the plate, but the Indians closer walked him on four pitches to put the tying run on at first. Ramirez singled off of the wall in left, allowing Betts to hustle home from second on his good read to make it a 4-3 game, but Bogaerts lined sharply to Kipnis at second to leave the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Allen returned for the ninth, in search of the four-out save. He got Young to fly to left and struck out Leon looking, but Bradley Jr. kept the game alive with a single to right. Pedroia walked, putting the tying run in scoring position, but after working the count full on Shaw, Allen induced a fly to medium right where Chisenhall secured the catch and the celebration began in the center of the diamond.
Cleveland swept Boston in a postseason series for the second time in franchise history, equaling the feat done in the first round of the 1995 playoffs. The Indians used four runs on seven hits, two sacrifices, and a 2-for-6 mark with runners in scoring position to get the job done. The Red Sox scored three runs on eight hits and drew four walks, but could not string together extended rallies as their long streak of single run innings continued. They were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position on the night and stranded eight runners on base.
TOMLIN SLOWS SOX
Tomlin (1-0, 3.60 ERA) earned his first postseason win in his first career playoff appearance. He worked five-plus innings on the mound, allowing just two runs on four hits with a rare walk and four strikeouts. He threw just 68 pitches on the night, including 48 for strikes, and found his success by getting ahead of batters early and often, throwing first pitch strikes to 14 of the 19 batters that he faced.
The walk of Ortiz to start the second was the first walk issued by Tomlin in a game since August 25.
BUCHHOLZ TEMPTED FATE
Buchholz (0-1, 4.50) was the tough-luck loser for Boston, allowing two runs on six hits in four innings of work. He walked one and struck out four, throwing first pitch strikes to 15 of 19 batters faced. He flirted with disaster quite a few times throughout his start, but left with just the two runs of damage.
Both bullpens were strong in the series.
The Indians relief corps of Allen, Miller, Shaw, and Dan Otero combined to work ten and one-third innings, allowing two runs on eight hits with four walks and 14 strikeouts in three games. Allen earned a pair of saves in two tries, while Miller took home the Game 1 win.
Seven different Boston relievers combined to allow three runs (two earned) on eight hits over 13 1/3 innings of work. They walked three and struck out 17. Pomeranz allowed what would be the only earned runs of the series for the Boston ‘pen and ultimately the deciding runs in Game 3, but he did manage seven strikeouts in three and two-thirds innings of work.
Before the Red Sox scored in the fifth inning, the Indians extended their shutout streak to 14 consecutive innings, previously done in the 1995 ALDS against the Red Sox. It was tied for the third-longest shutout streak in Indians playoff history.
After an incredible season, there were plenty of questions about why Ortiz would walk away from the game while still performing at a high level. Whether it was the emotion of the final games of his professional career, a testament to the Indians’ approach with him in the series, or a combination of both, Ortiz was held in check by the Cleveland pitching staff.
He went 1-for-9 in the series with a double in Game 1. He added two walks and an RBI on a sacrifice fly on Monday night and was lifted for a pinch-runner in the eighth inning after moving into scoring position.
Now, Tribe fans, the baseball world waits – at least on the American League side of the card.
The Indians will host the opener of the ALCS on Friday night against the AL Wild Card winners, the Toronto Blue Jays, who knocked off the Baltimore Orioles in dramatic fashion to advance into the main postseason ALDS series against the Texas Rangers. They went into the Rangers home and defeated them twice before finishing off the sweep back in Toronto on Sunday night to punch their ticket to the ALCS.
The active home field advantage club now that the Rangers have been eliminated, the Indians will host the Jays for Games 1, 2, and, if necessary, 6 and 7. Toronto will host three straight games from Monday through Wednesday next week. The two teams have never met in the postseason.
First pitch of Game 1 of the ALCS from Progressive Field is scheduled for 8:00 PM ET on Friday.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images