Jordan Luplow played the hero on Wednesday, giving the Cleveland Indians their fourth consecutive win and their second straight walk-off victory in a 3-2 final over the Chicago White Sox.
With a history of mashing against the White Sox, Luplow stepped to the dish against Chicago left-hander Gio Gonzalez in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied, 2-2. After a grounder to short by pinch-hitter Delino DeShields, Gonzalez fell behind 3-0 to Luplow, who had struck out in each of his first three at bats on the night. The next offering to the Tribe outfielder was a meatball down the middle and Luplow mashed it onto the Home Run Porch with a no-doubt-about-it walk-off shot, giving the Indians the 3-2 win.
Seven of Luplow’s 17 homers with the Indians in the last two seasons have come against the White Sox. It was his first career walk-off homer.
The Indians (32-24) have thrown a wrinkle into the American League playoff picture. The White Sox (34-22) are now tied with the Minnesota Twins (34-22 and tied for the top spot in the division while leading their game against Detroit at the time of this story). The Indians have pulled within two games of Chicago. The Indians have won four in a row and the White Sox have lost four straight. Cleveland is now 7-2 against Chicago this season.
Progressive Field hosted a playoff preview on Wednesday as Shane Bieber and Lucas Giolito squared off in a matchup that baseball fans may see again next Tuesday in the start of the American League Wild Card round. Both pitchers struggled with some walks, but put on display what has made them the top pitchers on their respective clubs’ staffs.
Both Bieber and Giolito walked a man in a scoreless first. Bieber walked the leadoff man in the second before striking out the next three. That effort was rewarded by his teammate Carlos Santana, who put the Indians on the board with a big fly 441 feet to right off of Giolito to start the second. The Sox right-hander bounced back and matched Bieber’s results after that, striking out the next three.
After a 1-2-3 third from Bieber, the Indians threatened against Giolito in the home half. Roberto Perez drilled a single to center. Oscar Mercado struck out, but Francisco Lindor singled to right to put the Tribe’s first runner into scoring position on the night. Cesar Hernandez grounded into a fielder’s choice force at second for the second out. Jose Ramirez worked a walk to load the bases, but Santana struck out swinging on a slider low and in to leave the bases loaded.
As seems to happen after missed opportunities, the abandoned base runners came back to haunt the Indians quickly. Jose Abreu reached on a fielding error at third by Ramirez. He moved to third on a double by Eloy Jimenez and a grounder to short from Edwin Encarnacion pushed across Abreu as the Indians traded a run for an out. With the go-ahead run at third and only one out, Bieber buckled down and handled his business, wiping out James McCann and Luis Robert swinging to leave that runner stranded at third.
Giolito struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth before the White Sox threatened again in the top of the fifth. Nick Madrigal singled to center with one down. Tim Anderson struck out swinging for Bieber’s second strikeout of the inning. A pair of wild pitches from Bieber allowed Madrigal to move all the way up to third. Yoan Moncada drew a walk to put runners on the corners, but Bieber punched out Abreu on three pitches for his third K of the inning and his tenth of the night.
Giolito retired the side in order in the bottom of the frame before Triston McKenzie took the mound for the Indians in his first career relief appearance. He pitched the sixth and seventh innings, giving up one hit while striking out three in a scoreless effort.
The Indians took advantage of a Giolito walk in the sixth to take the lead in his final frame. Ramirez drew a one-out free pass and moved to third on a squib shot against the shift by Santana that resulted in a double to left. Franmil Reyes launched a fly to center deep enough to score the tagging Ramirez from third to put the Indians up, 2-1. Tyler Naquin struck out swinging for the third time to leave Santana stranded at second.
After a scoreless seventh from both sides, the White Sox tied the game against Tribe righty James Karinchak. Moncada, marred in a lengthy slump at the plate, tripled off of the side wall in right and scored easily on a sacrifice fly to center by Abreu to tie the game at two.
The Indians left a pair in the eighth against Codi Heuer. Ramirez reached on an error by Madrigal at second with two outs and moved to second on a walk by Santana, but Reyes struck out looking for the hat trick on a slider on the inner third.
Brad Hand, whose season has not gotten the credit it has deserved, set down the bottom third of the White Sox lineup in order to preserve the tie. He was rewarded with his second win of the season as the pitcher of record on the Luplow blast.
The Indians could not have asked for much more from Bieber as he put the exclamation mark on an incredible 2020 regular season, one that will most likely result in the Indians’ sixth Cy Young award coming to the city of Cleveland. He lasted just five innings in his postseason tune-up, exiting with a high pitch count (98) after striking out ten of the 15 outs recorded. He allowed an unearned run on two hits while walking three.
“I’d say early in that first inning we recognized as a battery and a coaching staff that they were going to sit offspeed and look for, probably most notably, my curveball, and then slider and cutter, just trying to see pitches as long as possible,” said Bieber. “We were able to recognize that relatively quickly. I say it every outing but props to Roberto [Perez]. The guy is unbelievable, and our support staff around us, Ruben [Niebla], Carl [Willis], just so many names that are able to help us during the game to make adjustments.”
Bieber’s final stats for the season include an 8-1 record, a 1.63 ERA, a .167 batting average against, and a 0.87 WHIP with 122 strikeouts and 21 walks in 77 1/3 innings of work. He leads the Majors in strikeouts (by plenty), wins, and ERA; is third in innings pitched and WHIP; and is fifth in batting average against. He struck out ten batters or more in eight of his 12 outings.
“I’m impressed at how these guys have done with the pitching and keeping us in the game against this team that is very strong offensively,” said Indians interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. “I know Bieber felt like he was a little too strong today. He had problems commanding the breaking ball early in the game. He tried to slow himself down a little bit. He still managed to go there five and give us a chance and he didn’t give up an earned run. Guy’s a fighter.”
Not discussed enough, Bieber has a realistic shot at winning Major League Baseball’s “Pitcher’s Triple Crown”, recognized when a pitcher leads or is tied for the lead in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. It has been nine years since a pitcher has accomplished the feat, when Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw and Detroit’s Justin Verlander led their respective leagues in those stats in 2011. Thirty-eight league pitching triple crowns have been won, while the overall MLB Pitching Triple Crown has been achieved just a dozen times, with Minnesota’s Johan Santana the last to do it in 2006.
Giolito threw a season-high 119 pitches in what seems like a curious decision by manager Rick Renteria, even with both Bieber and Giolito having an extra day off before the start of the playoffs on Tuesday. The White Sox ace was charged with a pair of runs on four hits, walking three and striking out eleven in six innings of work.
Offense was at a premium for both clubs. The Indians had five hits and four walks, with Santana responsible for three of those nine times on base with a double, a homer, and a walk. Cleveland left six on base, while three different hitters (Reyes, Naquin, and Luplow) struck out three times.
The White Sox mustered four hits off of Indians pitching and three walks, all by Bieber. Moncada hit a triple and drew a walk. Anderson and Abreu were both held hitless, although the latter had a walk and a sacrifice fly. McCann earned the golden sombrero with four strikeouts, while Robert and Adam Engel each struck out three times. Chicago was 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position while stranding seven.
Thursday will be another playoff preview as a pair of solid starters square off from the Progressive Field mound. Right-hander Zach Plesac (4-2, 1.85 ERA) will be the first to the bump for the Tribe, looking to wrap up an impressive second big league season overall. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (6-2, 2.04 ERA) will make his first appearance against the Indians this season in a game that has some major implications for the AL playoff bracket.
First pitch of the regular season series finale between the Indians and White Sox is set for 6:10 PM ET Thursday.
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak