Toronto’s Marcus Stroman was good. Cleveland’s Danny Salazar was even better. Francisco Lindor? He got the party “rock ‘n'” as his solo blast deep to right through heavy raindrops gave the Indians a 2-1 walk-off victory on Saturday night from Progressive Field.
With fans anxious for a Tribe win and a sold out crowd present despite rain, heat, and humidity on the lake shore, Lindor gave a quick preview of the annual Rock ‘n’ Blast fireworks display scheduled for the evening as he stepped to the plate in the tenth against Blue Jays right-hander Danny Barnes. On the seventh pitch of the at bat and after fouling off four pitches, Lindor gave the Indians their first walk-off victory since the home opener against the Chicago White Sox with his first career game-ending shot.
The Indians (50-45) reached the 50-win plateau with the victory and claimed a series win with one more to play. They also pulled back within a game of the .500 mark on their home turf. Corey Kluber will make his return to the mound on Sunday after getting extended rest to deal with a sore neck. Toronto (44-53) will try to avoid the sweep when they turn to left-hander J.A. Happ in the 1:10 PM ET start.
The tenth inning started much differently for Lindor and the Tribe, who stared down a realistic possibility of falling behind in the contest for the first time. Cody Allen returned to the mound for a second inning of work after facing the minimum in the ninth and receiving a boost from his defense on a perfectly placed strike from Michael Brantley to second base to pick off Darwin Barney trying to advance from first on a fly out by Jose Bautista to deep left.
Josh Donaldson started the top of the tenth against Allen by sending a ball towards Lindor that the shortstop could not handle for an error. A walk by Justin Smoak had two on and nobody out, but Allen was able to strike out Kendrys Morales before a fielder’s choice off of the bat of Steve Pearce forced Donaldson at third base. Manager Terry Francona went back to the bullpen with Allen at 31 pitches (14 strikes) and brought on Bryan Shaw, who retired Kevin Pillar on a grounder to end the inning.
The late inning dramatics overshadowed the extremely encouraging return of the right-hander Salazar from his extended stay on the 10-day disabled list. He faced the minimum over seven innings and needed just 86 pitches in that span. He gave up just one hit – a leadoff single to Pillar to start the third – but erased the runner on a double play groundout several pitches later. Salazar added in eight strikeouts and did not walk a batter.
Toronto’s Stroman was good, but not great, but he worked around some extra traffic on the base paths due to his control issues. He would throw 117 pitches over seven and two-thirds innings, allowing a run on five hits with five walks and seven strikeouts on the night.
A double play ball also erased the Indians’ first hit – a Jose Ramirez single in the second. Their next hit in the fourth would significantly contribute to the scoring as after Lindor walked with one out, Brantley moved him to third with a single, setting the stage for an RBI-groundout by Edwin Encarnacion to give the Indians the lead.
That score remained the same as Salazar sliced through the Blue Jays lineup for seven innings. He exited after that, despite being in a good spot from a pitch count perspective. But in his first start back, Francona elected to go to his reliable bullpen instead and the move was a rare misfire for him and reliever Andrew Miller. Facing fellow All-Star Smoak, the first baseman continued his breakout season by slugging the first offering from Miller over the wall in right for the game-tying solo shot.
The Indians would threaten in the bottom of the eighth, putting two runners on and knocking Stroman out of the game, but Ryan Tepera struck out Santana swinging.
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