Tribe Holds on as Mercado, Wittgren Save the Day; Indians 8, White Sox 6
Bob Toth | On 04, Sep 2019
Oscar Mercado had a day at the plate, but it was his work with the glove in desperate times in the ninth inning that the Indians may talk about for the rest of the season. The rookie center fielder’s diving catch with the bases loaded and one out in a two-run game in the ninth saved the game for Cleveland and may have very well have saved its playoff chances as the Tribe held off the Chicago White Sox, 8-6.
Shane Bieber was backed with runs in six of eight innings by his offensive teammates, but the bullpen faltered late for a second straight night and let the White Sox back into the game. Mercado’s catch saved several runs, but Nick Wittgren still had to slam the door for one final out to secure a desperately needed win for the Indians.
Holding an 8-4 lead going into the top of the ninth, manager Terry Francona brought on his closer, Brad Hand, to work in a game for the first time since Thursday. Pitching with a presumably safe lead, Hand would not get the job done. He struck out Danny Mendick, who pinch-hit for Zack Collins, to start the inning, but Leury Garcia reached on a perfectly placed infield single. Two pitches later, the White Sox’s four-run deficit was cut in half as Tim Anderson cleared the wall in left-center with a two-run home run to make it an 8-6 game. Jose Abreu singled to left and Yoan Moncada walked on seven pitches. James McCann loaded the bases with a single to center, bringing Francona out of the third base dugout to get his closer and call on the right-hander Wittgren, who had lost his role as Francona’s primary eighth inning guy due to his own recent struggles. Eloy Jimenez, who homered twice in the White Sox’s comeback win on Tuesday night, fell behind 0-2 before fouling off several pitches and working the count full. On the eighth pitch of his at bat, he sent a drive to center. Mercado raced back, leapt, and made a diving catch. The White Sox base runners all had to retreat as the shot looked destined for extra bases. Wittgren left the bags full when he struck out pinch-hitter Ryan Goins to end the ball game.
The nailbiting win guaranteed the Indians (81-59) of at least a .500 finish on the campaign for the seventh straight season under Francona. Cleveland picked up a game on the Minnesota Twins, which lost to Boston, in the American League Central. Both the Indians and the Oakland Athletics picked up a half game on the idle Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card race.
Chicago is 61-78 on the year.
The Indians scored in each of the first five innings against White Sox right-hander Ivan Nova, but still managed to trail for a stretch. After a scoreless top half from Bieber, Francisco Lindor opened the Tribe’s trips to the plate with a single to shallow center. Mercado’s big night began with a first-pitch double to left that put two in scoring position for Carlos Santana on his jersey giveaway day. He was unable to move a run across as he grounded to first, but Puig picked him up with a fielder’s choice to short. Lindor scored on the play but a base running blunder by Mercado resulted in him being tagged out trying to go to third. Now down a runner in scoring position, Jason Kipnis grounded out to second to strand Puig on the base paths.
The White Sox struck through with a pair of runs against Bieber in the second to take the lead. McCann opened things up with a leadoff walk. Jimenez doubled to right-center to before a strikeout by the slumping Daniel Palka for the first out. Yolmer Sanchez put the Sox on the board with a sacrifice fly to center to tie the game and Collins delivered with a single to right-center that plated Jimenez to put Chicago on top, 2-1.
Franmil Reyes got the Indians offense going in the third as Cleveland responded to the Chicago runs with a run to tie the game back up. He doubled Nova’s second pitch of the inning to deep center and moved to third on a wild pitch on a walk by Jake Bauers. Roberto Perez grounded into a double play, but Reyes scored on the play to make it a 2-2 game.
Bieber struck out a pair in the third before Moncada singled, but McCann lined to third. The Indians rewarded his efforts with another run as the Tribe reclaimed the lead. Mercado singled to short with one out and Santana doubled deep to center to drive home the speedy youngster to make the score 3-2.
Bieber retired the side in order for the first time in the fourth before the offense got back to work. Perez and Yu Chang each singled with one down and, after a fly to right by Lindor, Mercado came through with the timely two-out hit, singling to right-center to plate Perez to give the Indians a two-run lead. Santana, batting for third straight at bat with runners in scoring position, stranded two more as he grounded to short.
The All-Star Game MVP got out of a jam in the fifth after walking Collins to lead off the inning. Garcia grounded into a fielder’s choice force at second for the first out before Anderson doubled to right to put two in scoring position for the heart of the order. Abreu grounded to third, but Garcia was tagged out at the plate by Bieber in a run down for the second out. Bieber struck out Moncada to end the inning.
Nova was tagged for the fourth time in five innings by the Tribe bats as Cleveland expanded its lead further. Puig singled and moved to second when Nova made a throwing error after a lineout by Kipnis for the first out. Reyes blasted the next pitch to right-center for a two-run home run, giving the Indians a 6-2 edge. Nova was yanked after a four-pitch walk to Bauers, but Jimmy Cordero got the next two to escape further harm.
Bieber got a double play ball to get out of the sixth and returned for the seventh, getting Sanchez to ground out before back-to-back strikeouts of Collins and Garcia to end his outing.
Josh Osich took the mound for the Sox in the home half of the seventh and tacked on two more runs. Reyes walked with one out and pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow added a single to left. Former nemesis Kelvin Herrera came on in relief for manager Rick Renteria, but his tough season continued as he uncorked a wild pitch to put two in scoring position. Herrera struck out Perez to culminate a ten-pitch battle for the second out, but Chang delivered what proved to be the most significant hit of the game as he dropped in a two-run single to left before being thrown out trying to advance to second on the play.
Nick Goody failed to protect the four-run lead for the Indians in the next half inning. A leadoff single by Anderson was followed by a homer to left by Abreu that made it an 8-4 game. Moncada singled to bring Francona out of the dugout for Tyler Clippard. He got his three outs with some flare, as he struck out McCann before plunking Jimenez to put two on. Palka grounded both runners up 90 feet, but Sanchez popped out to second to leave two big runs on base.
The Sox rallied for two more in the ninth after the Indians were unable to score against Hector Santiago, but the heroics of Mercado and Wittgren saved the day for the Tribe.
Bieber lasted seven innings and won for the first time since early August to improve to 13-7 on the year. He allowed two runs on six hits, walking two and striking out nine. Goody and Hand each allowed a pair of runs in their outings, while Wittgren earned his fourth save of the season with two very big outs in the ninth.
Nova dropped to 9-12 on the year with his worst start in four attempts against Cleveland this season. He lasted four and one-third innings, charged with six runs on eleven hits with two walks and just one strikeout. Osich allowed two more runs, which proved to be the decisive runs on the night.
Both clubs wasted countless opportunities on the night. The Indians were 4-for-18 with runners in scoring position while stranding eight. Chicago was 2-for-9 with ten left on base. Despite the number of men left standing, the two teams combined to put up 14 runs on 27 hits. Indians hitters struck out just three times on the night, with two coming from Perez.
Five different players on each club put up multi-hit games. Mercado had three hits and stole his 13th base of the year. Lindor, Puig, Reyes, and Chang also reached safe twice on hits. Anderson had three hits for the Sox with two runs scored and two runs batted in. Garcia, Abreu, Moncada, and Jimenez added two hits each.
Mercado’s game-changing play was appreciated by those on both sides.
“It was the greatest catch I’ve ever seen,” said Reyes. “That kind of catch with the bases loaded…it got the whole dugout pumped up. It was very impressive.”
“That catch was incredible,” said the starter Bieber. “I couldn’t really believe it, so I threw my hands up and said, `Holy smokes.’ I don’t know if it looked better on the field or on television, but we’ve been facing adversity all year and Oscar really picked us up tonight.”
“Obviously that young man in center field, Mercado, made a great catch,” said Sox manager Renteria. “It’s probably one of the best catches I’ve ever seen.”
“I felt like I had a pretty good jump on that ball, but it was so much on a line, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the time to get to it,” said Mercado of his game-saving snag. “It was high, so I just went for it. Thankfully, I got it.”
The finale of the four-game series from Progressive Field is set for a 1:10 PM ET start on Thursday afternoon. Former White Sox fan Zach Plesac (7-5, 3.61 ERA) will make his second career start against Chicago while looking to maintain good overall numbers this season at home. Right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (8-12, 5.41) will look to bounce back from a career-shortest effort his last time out, when he worked just two-thirds of an inning in Atlanta against the Braves.
Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images