Big days at the plate from Mike Freeman and Oscar Mercado and ten strikeouts from Mike Clevinger over five innings helped pace the Cleveland Indians to an 8-4 win on Sunday to split their four-game set with the New York Yankees.
The Indians got big numbers from some unusual contributors in Freeman and Mercado, who each went yard on three-hit days while driving in six of the eight Indians runs on the afternoon. Clevinger had some command issues throughout a short five-inning effort, pitching into full count scenarios frequently, but all in all, the Tribe spoiled the final regular season start against them by long-time friend of the feather and likely future Hall of Famer CC Sabathia.
Cleveland put the pressure on Sabathia early on. After a groundout by Francisco Lindor to start play on the afternoon, Mercado kicked off his three-hit day by singling to right, stealing second, and advancing to third on a throwing error. Carlos Santana grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Mercado being thrown out at the plate for the second out. Yasiel Puig had some fun with Sabathia, imitating a viral video of a unique batting stance used by a Little Leaguer before striking out swinging on a 2-2 pitch.
Clevinger needed 21 pitches to get through the first. He struck out DJ LeMahieu swinging on a 3-2 pitch. He struck out Aaron Judge on three straight before walking Didi Gregorius on a payoff pitch. The count went full for the third time in the frame with Gio Urshela in the batter’s box, but he was cut down on the sixth pitch of the AB to end the weird inning.
The Indians sent ten men to the plate in the second to take the early lead. Back-to-back singles by Franmil Reyes and Roberto Perez started the inning and a sacrifice bunt by Jason Kipnis put both runners in scoring position. Greg Allen plated the first run of the game on a fielder’s choice to Sabathia, with all runners reaching base safely. Freeman joined the fun in his first at bat of the day, driving a 1-1 pitch into the Yankees bullpen in right-center to put the Indians up, 4-0. Sabathia got Lindor to ground out for the second out, but then things began to dangerously spiral away from him. After a first pitch strike to Mercado, he fired 12 straight balls to put on the Tribe left fielder, Santana, and Puig to load the bases, but he dodged a bullet by striking out Reyes to end the big inning.
Clevinger stared down an issue of his own in the bottom of the second. Gary Sanchez struck out swinging for Clevinger’s fourth strikeout of the game. Brett Gardner doubled to left before a strikeout by Gleyber Torres. Mike Ford walked to put two runners on, but Mike Tauchman lined to right to end the inning.
Sabathia struck out the side in the third, but Clevinger countered with two more strikeouts in the bottom half of the inning around a one-out single by Judge and a two-out single by Urshela.
Sabathia was replaced on the mound for the fourth by manager Aaron Boone, as the former Tribe third baseman went to Nestor Cortes Jr. He struck out Freeman looking before Lindor drove the next pitch the opposite way and out of the park to right to pad the Indians lead at 5-0.
Clevinger struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth, but another Indians scoring threat was squashed in the fifth after Puig led off the inning with a walk off of Cortes Jr. Reyes struck out swinging and Perez flied to center before Kipnis reached on an infield single. With two on, Allen lined to Torres at second to end the threat.
With a high pitch count from so many full counts, Clevinger made it through five, getting two liners and a grounder to end his outing. But before he could turn the game over officially to the bullpen, the Indians added one more run of support while he was the pitcher of record. Freeman doubled for his second hit of the afternoon and Mercado drove him home, after a Lindor groundout, with a single to left to make it a 6-0 Cleveland advantage. A single by Santana ended Cortes Jr.’s outing, as Luis Cessa came on and got out of the runners on the corners situation by getting Puig to ground into a double play.
Nick Goody allowed two to reach in the bottom of the sixth, but kept the Yankees off of the scoreboard. The same could not be said for Hunter Wood, who took the mound after the seventh inning stretch and gave up a leadoff single to right by Ford. After Tauchman flied to Mercado in left, LeMahieu dropped in a homer just out of the reach of the outstretched glove of Puig in right to put New York on the board at 6-2. Judge struck out swinging for the second out and Oliver Perez got Gregorius to ground to short for the final out.
Mercado made his third hit of the game count for two more runs in the eighth against Cessa. After a ground-rule double to straightaway center by Freeman for his third extra base hit of the day, Lindor moved him to third on a grounder to second. Freeman was able to jog in with ease from there as Mercado cleared the wall in left with his tenth homer of the year to give the Indians an 8-2 lead.
Nick Wittgren gave the Tribe a 1-2-3 eighth before Brad Hand came in for some work before Monday’s off day, but as has been the trend of late, the inning did not go easily for the Tribe’s All-Star left-hander. His first pitch of the inning plunked Torres to put a runner on. Ford flied to center in a seven-pitch at bat for out number one, but Tauchman singled to center to put runners on the corners. LeMahieu took the count to 3-1 before singling to left to plate Torres to make it 8-3. Judge drove a 3-2 pitch deep to left over the head of Mercado and off of the base of the wall for an RBI-double, making it 8-4. With the tying run now standing in the on-base circle, Hand bounced back and struck out Gregorius on three straight sliders for the second out, and Urshela flied another slider into the glove of Mercado in deep left for the final out in the non-save situation.
The win gave the Indians (74-51) a season-series win over the Yankees (83-43), four games to three, and a split of the four-game set from Yankee Stadium. The victory left the Indians two and a half games in back of the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central as the first place club won its fourth straight game while completing a sweep in Texas against the Rangers.
Clevinger had an adventure on the mound for the Tribe, but won his seventh straight decision with a five-inning effort. He threw 104 pitches in retiring 15 batters and got ten of those via strikeout. He walked two and allowed just three hits on the afternoon, but he was constantly in precarious situations as ten of 20 batters that he faced drew 3-2 counts. He also went to a 2-2 on two other hitters on the day.
In what was Sabathia’s final regular season start against his former club, he lasted just three innings. Activated from the 10-day injured list prior to the game after missing time with knee tendinitis, he allowed four runs on four hits with three walks and five strikeouts, needing 67 pitches to clear nine outs. He threw 37 of those pitches for strikes while dropping to 5-7 on the season.
Seven of nine Indians starters provided hits on the afternoon. Freeman, starting at third base to give Jose Ramirez a day off, had the biggest day in the lineup, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, a three-run homer, and three runs scored. Mercado was not far behind him, going 3-for-4 with a walk, two singles, a homer, a run scored, two stolen bases, and three runs batted in. Lindor and Allen also added RBI, with the Tribe’s shortstop hitting his 21st homer of the season.
LeMahieu pushed his season average up another point to .339 with a 2-for-5 day at the plate, which included his 21st homer on the campaign. He drove in three runs and now has 86 RBI on the year. Before the game, infielder Thairo Estrada was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained right hamstring, while utility man Tyler Wade was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Indians will take Monday off before moving their series over to Citi Bank Field for the first time (the Indians have only played one road series against the Mets all-time and that trip was to old Shea Stadium in 2004). Shane Bieber (12-5, 3.27 ERA) will open the interleague affair Tuesday night.
The Yankees are also off Monday ahead of a nine-game road trip starting in Oakland on Tuesday night.
Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images