For the third straight season, the Cleveland Indians are American League Central Division champions as they routed the Detroit Tigers by a 15-0 final from Progressive Field on Saturday afternoon.
The Indians became the second team to clinch a playoff berth and the first club to win its division as the Tribe secured a race that was thought to be well over in April when the team moved into sole possession of the AL Central on April 21. The game Saturday was well out of hand after one frame, as the Indians began their onslaught with their first of four multi-run innings on the day. It was more than enough support for Mike Clevinger, who allowed just one Tigers hit and three walks in six innings before exiting with a 15-run lead.
Michael Fulmer got the start for Detroit, but he lasted just five pitches before leaving with an injury. However, by that point enough damage had been done by the Tribe, as Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley used two of those offerings to go deep to right with back-to-back jacks to put the Indians up, 2-0. After a visit from the trainer and manager Ron Gardenhire, Fulmer was removed from the game and left-hander Matt Hall came on to make his Major League debut, but the Indians were in hitting mode at that point and got some extra help from some defensive miscues behind him. Jose Ramirez singled to center and moved to second on a wild pitch. Edwin Encarnacion reached on an error at first, allowing Ramirez to score the third run of the inning. Yonder Alonso grounded into a fielder’s choice, but second baseman Dawel Lugo could not field the ball cleanly, allowing both runners to reach safely. Melky Cabrera loaded the bases with a single and Yandy Diaz made it 4-0 with a fielder’s choice force at second. Jason Kipnis lifted a sacrifice fly to left, allowing Alonso to score on a wide throw to the plate, and Roberto Perez knocked in Diaz with a single to right. Lindor, the tenth man to bat, grounded out to short to end the inning with the Tribe up, 6-0.
Clevinger retired the Tigers on three ground balls in the second before the Indians’ bats pounded away again at Hall. Brantley walked and scored all the way from first on a Ramirez double and an error in right by Nicholas Castellanos. Encarnacion got an RBI with a single to right to score Ramirez. Alonso singled to put runners on the corners and Cabrera pushed Encarnacion across with a single to left center to make it 9-0. Diaz became the sixth straight batter to reach with the fifth consecutive hit of the inning, loading the bases with a single, and Kipnis forced home a run when he was hit by a pitch to make it 10-0. Sandy Baez came on in relief in his fifth career game and gave up a sacrifice fly to Perez before retiring Lindor on a liner. Brantley loaded the bases with his second walk of the inning before Ramirez popped out to short, leaving the Indians with a comfortable 11-0 lead.
The Indians added two more in the third after another perfect inning from Clevinger when Alonso homered off of Baez after a leadoff walk by Encarnacion.
Clevinger had his toughest inning in the fourth, when he stared down a bases loaded situation, but with a comfortable 13-run advantage. With one out, Christin Stewart singled and stole second. Castellanos walked and Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked pinch-hitting for Victor Martinez to load the bases. Clevinger was unfazed by the situation, striking out Jim Adduci and James McCann swinging to end the mini-threat.
The Indians tallied four straight one-out hits in the fourth against Zac Reininger to push their lead to its final number. Brantley singled to reach safely for the fourth time in four innings. Ramirez tripled him home and scored on a single by Encarnacion, giving Cleveland a 15-0 edge. Alonso singled before the next two were retired to end the inning.
Clevinger retired the final eight batters that he faced, facing the minimum in the fifth and sixth before turning the game over to the bullpen. Oliver Perez pitched a scoreless seventh, Adam Cimber and Cody Allen combined to strand a runner at third in the eighth, and Allen and Brad Hand worked a quiet ninth before the celebration started at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
The Indians improved to 83-65 on the season and became the first to clinch a division (second to secure a playoff berth – Boston) by pushing their lead in the Central to 15.5 games prior to a Minnesota loss to Kansas City later in the day. The Tigers fell to 60-88 with the loss and remain in third place in the division, 23 games in back of the Tribe.
Clevinger earned his 12th win of the year in the easy victory, serving as the pitcher of record when the Indians took over the division for good back in April with a win over Baltimore and getting the starting nod on the day that the team clinched, a span of 135 games and 153 days. He worked six quiet innings, allowing just one hit and three walks while striking out five.
Fulmer left with right knee inflammation after five pitches and suffered his 12th loss of the year. Hall, a 25-year-old rookie southpaw, made his big league debut after spending parts of four seasons in the minors (going 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo this season), but that outing might be one he would rather forget. In one inning of work split between the first and second, he was charged with nine runs (six earned) on eight hits with one walk on 53 pitches.
All nine Indians starters recorded at least one hit and one RBI in the ball game. Ramirez and Alonso each had three hits and a pair of RBI. Encarnacion drove in a pair in a two-hit game, but left for precautionary reasons after rolling his ankle on the top of second base in the fourth. Brantley had two hits, two walks, and one RBI, while Kipnis drove in two. Even with 15 runs scored, the Indians still stranded 13 men on base. Lindor’s leadoff homer was his eighth of the year, moving him out of a tie with Grady Sizemore for the most struck in a season for the Indians.
The Indians will look to take their final game against the Tigers this season in Sunday’s 1:10 PM ET start, seeking a 14th win against the Central club this year. Rookie right-hander Shane Bieber (10-3, 4.32 ERA) will look to build on a career-high eleven strikeouts in his last start against Tampa Bay in his second career start against Detroit. Veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano (4-10, 4.58) will throw for the Tigers in the finale, looking for just his second win since the final days of April.
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