The Indians spoiled the final regular season start in Cleveland for longtime Tribe southpaw CC Sabathia and claimed another big series win over a playoff caliber opponent on Saturday afternoon with an 8-4 win over the New York Yankees.
Playing in his 19th and final Major League season, the Sabathia farewell tour made its stop in Cleveland with a big milestone on the line for the left-hander. Looking for his 250th career win in his last Progressive Field start (his home for eight big league seasons), Sabathia was good in the early going, but ran into trouble late and was bested by Adam Plutko, who was called up from Triple-A Columbus for a spot start for the Tribe.
Sabathia was given a two-run lead before he even took the mound. Plutko struck out Brett Gardner to start the day’s festivities, but DJ LeMahieu reached on an infield single with one out. Plutko got Aaron Hicks to fly out to center for out number two, but Didi Gregorius drove the very next pitch over the wall in right for a two-out, two-run home run. His first of the season gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
The Indians had some early chances against Sabathia, but could not come through. Francisco Lindor started the bottom of the first with a single to left, but Oscar Mercado flied out to center before Carlos Santana grounded into a double play. Jordan Luplow drew a leadoff walk in the second before back-to-back strikeouts by Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez. Jason Kipnis kept the inning alive with a single to center, but Kevin Plawecki grounded into a force at third to end the second. Sabathia struck out the side in order in the third.
Plutko settled down after the two-out homer in the first. He retired the side in the second and allowed a two-out single to LeMahieu in the third. He needed just nine pitches to get his three outs in the top of the fourth before the Indians got to work against Sabathia.
The Indians used the aggressive approach with the former Cleveland star Sabathia in the home half of the fourth as Santana singled on the second pitch of the inning and Luplow joined him on the bases on the next pitch with a double to left. Ramirez lofted an 0-1 pitch to right deep enough to score Santana to get the Indians on the board. Perez, riding a three-game homer streak, sent a blast just to the left of center that appeared at first glance to clear the wall for a two-run home run. The umpires on the field ruled the hit a double and after manager Terry Francona asked the umpires to take a second look at Perez’s hit, the ruling from New York was the same. The damage was done as Luplow scored on the play to tie the game, but a chance for more run support derailed as Kipnis lined sharply to Gregorius, who was able to nab Perez well off of second to end the inning.
Plutko made it seven straight retired as he cruised through the fifth before the Indians put together a second big inning with a two-out rally against Sabathia. Plawecki grounded out to the mound, but Sabathia came up limping on the play. He remained in the game and got Leonys Martin to fly to right before Lindor doubled for his second hit of the game. Mercado swung and missed at the first two pitches of his at bat before taking a pair of pitches out of the strike zone. The 2-2 offering was to his liking, however, as he pushed a slider the opposite way and over the wall for his third home run of the season to give the Indians a 4-2 lead.
Plutko had a 1-2-3 sixth with the final pitches of a quality outing and used some stellar defensive plays to do so. Gardner blasted a deep drive to right that was caught by Luplow just before crashing into the right field wall (more on that later…). Two pitches later, Plutko snared a bullet to his left by LeMahieu and made it look easy before Hicks grounded out to short.
The Indians extended their lead again with the long ball in the bottom of the frame. Luplow singled off of Jonathan Holder, on in relief of Sabathia after five. Ramirez struck out swinging on the fastball/changeup/fastball mix for the first out. Perez worked an eight-pitch at bat and won it in a big way, driving the 2-2 pitch 447 feet deep to the Home Run Porch. His fourth straight game with a homer and eleventh of the season gave the Indians a 6-2 lead. After a grounder to second by Kipnis, Plawecki took a page out of his backstop tandem mate’s book, parking his own home run onto the porch in left to give Cleveland a 7-2 lead.
The Yankees struck back for a pair of runs to make the game closer as Francona went to his bullpen in the seventh. Gregorius grounded to the mound, where reliever Oliver Perez was knocked to the ground and threw wild to first from the turf. Gleyber Torres doubled him home with a drive to the right of center to make it 7-3. Kendrys Morales moved the runner to third with a grounder to short. Francona made the trip to the mound for the first time and called on Adam Cimber, who walked Clint Frazier on five pitches before Gio Urshela drove in a run against his former club with a sacrifice fly to center to score Torres to cut the score to 7-4. Pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez grounded out to end the inning.
Luis Cessa worked a quiet seventh, working around a one-out double by Mercado. Nick Wittgren handled the eighth for the Tribe, getting three groundouts around a two-out walk by Hicks. Cessa got into some trouble in the bottom of the eighth as the Indians added another insurance run. Ramirez drew a leadoff walk and moved to third one out later on a single by Kipnis, his second of the day. A sacrifice fly by Plawecki extended the lead to 8-4.
Brad Hand took the mound in the ninth for the fourth time in five days and shut down the Yankees on eleven pitches. He got a pair of groundouts before a two-out double by Frazier, but he ended the non-save situation with a swinging strikeout of Urshela to give the Indians a second straight win over New York.
Plutko gave the Indians the start that they needed as he overcame the first inning troubles with Gregorius. He retired 16 of the final 17 batters that he faced, allowing just two runs on three hits with no walks and four strikeouts on just 85 pitches. He moved to 2-1 on the season for the Tribe.
For Plutko, facing off with the retiring Sabathia was a special moment.
“I’ve been a huge fan of CC Sabathia for a long time,” Plutko said after the game. “It’s something that I’ll remember for sure for the rest of my life.”
Hand’s outing Saturday marked the first time that he has appeared in a non-save situation since May 23 against Tampa Bay. He had recorded seven straight saves since and 19 straight on the year in 29 overall outings with a 0.98 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP.
Sabathia fell short in his bid for win number 250. He lasted five innings, allowing four runs on seven hits with a walk and five strikeouts, as he bid farewell to his former mound in downtown Cleveland. While the Yankees eventually scored four runs, it was too late as the bullpen behind him gave up four more, including three from Holder on a pair of homers.
Eight of nine Indians reached base safely. Five different players had two-hit efforts, including Lindor, Mercado, Luplow, Perez, and Kipnis. Luplow reached a third time via walk and was the only player to score twice for the Tribe. Perez led the way with three RBI while hitting in the designated hitter spot in the lineup. Martin went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as his plate woes continued.
Prior to the game, the Indians optioned reliever Jon Edwards to Triple-A to make room for the addition of Plutko.
Gregorius remained hot in his return from the injured list, going 2-for-4 for the second straight game while scoring two runs and driving two in.
Gardner added insult to injury as he extended his hitless streak to 19 straight at bats through the end of the game. In his penultimate AB, he lined out deep on the ball nabbed by Luplow at the wall in the sixth. Upon returning to the dugout, he fired his helmet away, which bounced off of the wall and right back into his face, leaving him bloody and swollen. He needed six stitches postgame to take care of the cut and clot on his fat bottom lip.
The Indians will go for a series sweep on Sunday afternoon in a 1:10 PM ET first pitch from Progressive Field. Righty Shane Bieber (5-2, 3.57 ERA) will be the first to the mound for Cleveland, aiming for a fourth straight winning decision. The Yankees’ originally scheduled starter, Masahiro Tanaka, had his start pushed back a day after the birth of his second child on Friday. It is believed that New York will use a bullpen game to fill his rotation spot.
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