The Cleveland Indians rallied back from a 3-1 deficit with a seven-run inning, then held on to outlast the Toronto Blue Jays in a 9-8 final on Saturday afternoon.
The Indians guaranteed at least a series split with the Jays after a big fifth inning looked to tip the odds in the Tribe’s favor. The Blue Jays, however, did not back down, making it a game until the 27th and final out was recorded with the winning run at the plate and the tying run in scoring position.
The Jays got to Indians’ starter Adam Plutko early on. He worked out of a jam in the first with two on and nobody out, but Toronto’s bats continued again in the second as Friday night’s hero Kevin Pillar doubled to start the frame. One out later, Richard Urena put the Jays on the board with a double to right, and he came in with the second run on a single to left from Aledmys Diaz before Plutko worked his way out of the mess.
Cleveland took advantage of a free pass in the third inning from rookie righty Sean Reid-Foley to cut the deficit in half. Roberto Perez, whose name would come up big in a couple of innings, drew a leadoff walk. Greg Allen doubled over the outstretched glove of the right fielder, scoring Perez all the way from first. Allen moved no further as Reid-Foley retired the next three, but it was now a 2-1 game.
Plutko’s problems with the long ball continued in the bottom of the inning as Randal Grichuk cleared the wall in right with a one-out solo shot, his 20th of the season, to get the run right back.
Both teams left runners on base in the fourth, but could not score. That changed in the fifth as free passes and home runs came back to bite the rookie Reid-Foley. Perez jumped on a first pitch fastball and drove it over the wall in left-center for his first home run since April 10, making it a 3-2 game. Allen drew a walk before Francisco Lindor flied out to center. Michael Brantley took advantage of another four-seamer up on a 2-1 pitch and put the Tribe on top with a two-run home run to right, making it a 4-3 Indians lead. The inning continued after a lineout by Jose Ramirez as Edwin Encarnacion walked on four pitches and Yonder Alonso worked an eight-pitch free pass to put two while ending Reid-Foley’s day. Justin Shafer came on, but he missed the strike zone with each of his first ten pitches, walking Melky Cabrera and Jason Kipnis, with the latter blunder forcing in another run. After Shafer fell behind 2-1 to Perez (the tenth man to bat in the inning), the Indians’ backstop caught another fastball to his liking and doubled to center, clearing the bases with a personal four-RBI inning and putting the Indians up 8-3 behind a seven-run frame.
The five-run advantage was to be short-lived, however, as Plutko continued to let the ball fly around the yard. After getting Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Kendrys Morales to fly to left, Grichuk hit his second homer in as many at bats and rookie Rowdy Tellez hit his first non-double of the season with a drive over the wall in center to make it 8-5 on the back-to-back solo homers. Dan Otero was summoned by manager Terry Francona and allowed a double to Pillar before retiring Danny Jansen.
The Indians added their final run in the sixth against Mark Leiter Jr. Brantley walked with one out and moved to second on a single by Ramirez. A mental error turned into a statistical one as Encarnacion reached on a grounder to Diaz, as the third baseman paused thinking the ball was foul before looking towards second and then firing late to first. His mental and statistical error kept the inning moving, but continued defensive lapses occurred as Alonso grounded back to the mound. Leiter’s throw to the plate pulled the catcher off balance enough that he got the bases loaded force at the plate of Brantley, but he could not turn what should have been a routine 1-2-3 double play. With the inning hanging in the balance, Leiter threw a pitch in the dirt to Cabrera that barely scooted away from Jansen towards first base, but an alert and aggressive Ramirez broke from third and scored just ahead of the hustling Leiter with a head first slide to make it 9-5.
That run would prove to be key. Otero retired the first two in the sixth before giving up four straight hits. Billy McKinney singled and Gurriel doubled to put two in scoring position. Morales plated a pair with a two-run single to make it 9-7, and after Grichuk singled, Tyler Olson entered and promptly walked Tellez. Neil Ramirez took over as the fourth pitcher of the game and gave up a deep drive to center by Pillar that was tracked down by the speedy Allen before meeting the wall with the final out in hand.
The Indians left two on in the seventh before the Jays chipped away again. Jansen doubled off of Ramirez and he moved to third on a groundout by Urena. Diaz dropped in his third hit of the game with a double to left, cutting the score to 9-8. Oliver Perez relieved Ramirez and got a pair of outs around an intentional pass. The Tribe bats responded by getting two two-out singles in the top of the eighth, but left the duo there.
Perez struck out Grichuk in the bottom of the eighth before Tellez earned his first base hit of his career with a single to center. Josh Tomlin came on for the taxed bullpen and got Pillar to fly to right. In what was the at bat of the game, switch-hitter Justin Smoak stepped in for Jansen and took a first pitch ball up and in. A sinker in under the hands was called a strike and Smoak cut and missed badly on a slow curve for strike two. Tomlin broke off another curve that caught the very edge of the plate for a called third strike, ending the inning with the tying run at first.
After the Tribe bats went down in order in the top of the ninth, Cody Allen came on to save the day, but he made it adventurous once again. After striking out Urena, Diaz drove the next offering to right-center for a double, his third double and fourth hit of the game. With the tying run in scoring position, pinch-hitter Dwight Smith Jr. battled Allen for eight pitches, popping up the last one to center for the second out. Gurriel fell behind in the count 1-2 before lining sharply to Brandon Barnes in right for the final out of the game.
The Indians moved to 81-61 on the season, securing their sixth straight season of .500 ball or better under Francona. Combined with a loss by the Minnesota Twins to the Kansas City Royals, the Tribe’s magic number was reduced to five.
Toronto dropped to 64-78 with the loss and fell back below even at home on the year at 36-37.
Neither young starter lasted to the end of the fifth. Plutko worked four and two-thirds innings in a no-decision, allowing five runs on nine hits with no walks and four strikeouts. Reid-Foley took his third loss of the season, allowing six runs on five hits with five walks and three strikeouts in four and two-thirds innings in his first start since pitching a career-high seven innings and striking out ten against Miami.
Tomlin was credited with his first win of the year with two-thirds of an inning of much needed relief. Ramirez and O. Perez each earned holds, while Allen earned his 26th save of the season with his scoreless ninth.
The Indians’ offensive woes continued in the contest as the team left eleven men on base and went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. R. Perez went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and four runs batted in. Brantley drove in two and hit his 15th homer of the season.
“It feels good,” shared the catcher of his big day at the plate. “I’ve been working hard every day, coming in and doing my routine, and it’s paying off. It was just a matter of time.”
The Jays had a four-hit day from Diaz out of the nine spot in the lineup. The team also set a new season-high for doubles with eight (three from Diaz) and extra base hits with eleven.
The Indians will look to chip away further on their magic number and capture the season series from the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon in a 1:07 PM ET start from Rogers Centre, as former Indians farmhand and rookie left-hander Thomas Pannone (1-1, 4.58 ERA) will square off with Mike Clevinger (11-7, 3.11). Pannone joined the Blue Jays staff in August and has worked primarily in relief, but has made two starts (including seven one-hit innings against Baltimore in his first big league win on August 22). Clevinger is coming off of a strong performance his last time out against Kansas City when he allowed a run on three hits with ten strikeouts over six innings.
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