The Indians gave up a 4-1 lead in the middle innings as the Philadelphia Phillies used eight unanswered runs to defeat Cleveland by a 9-4 count on Saturday night.
With every win valuable down the stretch for the playoff contending Tribe, it was a tough blow to the team’s chances of October baseball on Saturday night. An early three-run lead went for naught as the pitching staff could not protect the advantage while the offense disappeared after putting up a four-spot in the first two frames. A loss by the Minnesota Twins kept the Indians (91-64) within four games in the American League Central, but a two-run home run in extras by the Tampa Bay Rays gave them a walk-off win over Boston and a full game lead over the Indians for the second AL Wild Card spot.
The Indians put up their four runs in the first two innings against Jason Vargas, but somehow, someway, the veteran left-hander was able to turn things around on the mound and in a hurry.
A throwing error by Jean Segura allowed Francisco Lindor to reach safely to start the home half of the first. As Oscar Mercado struck out swinging, Lindor stole second and moved to third on a throwing error by catcher J.T. Realmuto. Two pitches later, Carlos Santana gave the Indians a 1-0 lead with a single to left-center. Yasiel Puig struck out looking for the second out before back-to-back singles by Jordan Luplow and Franmil Reyes led to Santana scoring to make it a 2-0 game.
Plesac had a tough time right out of the gate on Saturday. He worked out of a self-induced jam in the first after walking Realmuto and Bryce Harper with one out, but he recovered by getting Rhys Hoskins to fly to center before striking out Jay Bruce. A big two-out hit in the next inning by Adam Haseley made Segura’s leadoff double pay off as the Phillies cut the deficit in half at 2-1.
The Indians got to Vargas for the second straight inning with some two-out magic. Lindor walked in a seven-pitch battle to keep the inning alive and Mercado drove a 2-1 pitch over the wall in in front of the bullpens to double the Indians score in a 4-1 ball game.
Both pitchers fired their first 1-2-3 innings in an uneventful third before things took a turn for the worse. Plesac opened the fourth with two outs of Bruce and Segura, but former Indian Brad Miller added insult to his parting shots earlier this season by sending a 3-2 changeup over the fence for a solo shot, making it a 4-2 score.
Vargas escaped the bottom of the fourth with a double play ball off of the bat of Yu Chang before his offense delivered a pair of big blasts to change the course of the night. Plesac allowed singles to Haseley and Realmuto around an out by Cesar Hernandez. With runners on the corners and the tying run on at first, manager Terry Francona retrieved his starter for Oliver Perez in a left-on-left battle with Harper. The two went back and forth for eight pitches before Harper caught a hanging slider and belted a three-run blast over the fence in right to put the Phillies on top for the first time, 5-4. Francona went back to the mound for James Hoyt, who struck out Hoskins swinging for the second out before Bruce went oppo taco with a solo shot to left to extend the Philadelphia lead to 6-4.
Vargas allowed his last base runner to reach with a two-out walk of Santana in the fifth before retiring the final six batters that he faced to bring him two outs into the bottom of the seventh. Jared Hughes came on for the second straight night and got the final man that inning as well as each of the first two in the bottom of the eighth before Jose Alvarez struck out Puig to send the game to the ninth.
With the game still somewhat within reach, the Phillies tacked on three more runs against the Indians bullpen to put the game out of reach for good. Coming on for a second inning of relief, Nick Wittgren gave up a leadoff homer to Miller, his second of the game. Kingery reached on a throwing error by Lindor before Haseley flied to center. Francona called on his rookie righty James Karinchak for his third big league outing, but it came with some lumps as he gave up an RBI-single to Hernandez and a double to Realmuto before a sacrifice fly by Harper ended the scoring. Karinchak got Hoskins to ground to short to end the inning with the score at 9-4.
Edgar Garcia came on for work in the ninth and took care of the Tribe in short order. He struck out pinch-hitter Bradley Zimmer swinging and got Reyes the same way. Jake Bauers pinch-hit for Kevin Plawecki and flied to center.
Philadelphia improved to 79-74 on the season, but still has a big mountain to climb in the National League Wild Card race with ten games to go. They trail Milwaukee by five games for the second spot.
Plesac was hooked by Francona after 90 pitches in four and one-third innings. He allowed four runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Four of the six Indians relievers to follow him allowed at least one run.
Vargas was touched up early, but settled down to give the Phillies a quality start. He lasted six and two-thirds innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on five hits with two walks and eight strikeouts on an even 100 pitches. He improved to 7-8 on the season while winning for the first time in ten tries as a member of the Phillies. It was the tenth time in his 14-year career that he earned a win over Cleveland.
Mercado led the way for the Indians with two more RBI as he continued his hot hitting at the plate. Santana reached safely with a single and a walk. Lindor scored two of the Tribe’s four runs on the night.
Harper drove in four with a three-run blast and a sacrifice fly to pace the Phillies offense. Miller struck back against his former club with a pair of solo homers to give him seven on the year. Bruce’s homer was his 12th with Philadelphia.
In encouraging news, Brad Hand made his first appearance since September 8, striking out the side swinging on 13 pitches in the top of the sixth.
“That was the bright spot,” shared Francona after the game. “We’ll see how he bounces back. That was really good to see.”
The Indians will look to keep their playoff dreams alive on Sunday in a nationally televised game on a busy evening from downtown Cleveland. Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.34 ERA) will make arguably the biggest start of his career to date, while Vince Velasquez (7-7, 4.89) will look to keep Philadelphia’s Wild Card hopes alive in his third career start against the Indians and first since 2016.
First pitch of the ESPN broadcast is scheduled for 6:37 PM ET.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images