No-hit for more than six innings by Pittsburgh, the Cleveland Indians made their handful of late hits count as they rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to steal a 4-3 win from the Pirates on Friday night.
The stunning comeback by the Indians (34-24) moved the club back into second place as their late season charge up the standings has altered the American League playoff picture significantly. Winning for the sixth straight time, the Indians used three runs in the ninth inning to capitalize against Pittsburgh after wasting a small village of free base runners that came courtesy of Pirates top prospect Mitch Keller as part of a stat line that was hard to believe.
Effectively wild would be the phrase best used for the Pirates right-hander Keller as he dodged mistake after mistake for five innings while somehow managing to keep the Indians not only off of the scoreboard, but out of the hit column in a tough start for him against veteran Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco.
Carrasco walked the first batter of the night before getting the next three outs, then was given an early lead as Keller could not find the strike zone. Making his first start since throwing six no-hit innings against St. Louis, Keller threw 12 of his first 15 pitches out of the strike zone to walk the bases loaded. In explicable fashion, each of the next two batters to the plate jumped on the first pitches that they saw, with Carlos Santana grounding into a double play that pushed across a run and Franmil Reyes sending a grounder back to the mound as the Indians wasted a big opportunity. Despite the mistakes, Cleveland had a 1-0 lead after its hitless first.
The Indians wasted a two-out walk by Sandy Leon in the second before threatening with the bases loaded again in the bottom of the third. Francisco Lindor led off the inning with his second walk in three innings and stole second. Cesar Hernandez struck out swinging for the first out. Jose Ramirez got ahead in the count 3-0 before fouling off six straight pitches, with the last one remaining in play for second baseman Adam Frazier to snag for the second out. Santana and Reyes, who were both overly aggressive in the first, drew six-pitch walks to load the bases, but on the next offering, Tyler Naquin lined to first to leave the bases full of Indians.
Carrasco retired eleven in a row before running into an issue in the fourth. With two outs in the inning, Josh Bell singled through the right side. Gregory Polanco drilled the next pitch over the right field wall for a two-run home run, putting the Pirates up, 2-1.
Keller finally got himself in check in the fourth, retiring the side in order. Carrasco did the same in the top of the fifth. Lindor drew his third straight walk to start the home half of the fifth, but he was erased on a double play ball off of the bat of Hernandez before Ramirez grounded to first.
Carrasco needed some help and some luck to get out of the sixth. Frazier singled to center before the Tribe right-hander walked Ke’Bryan Hayes and Colin Moran to load the bases. Carrasco bounced back by striking out Bell swinging on a fastball away before he got Polanco to ground to second, starting an inning-ending double play.
Nik Turley retired the side in order in the bottom of the sixth, continuing Keller’s five hitless innings with one of his own. Phil Maton threw a perfect inning in relief of Carrasco in the seventh before the Indians finally got a base runner that was not of the free variety. Facing Sam Howard in the bottom of the seventh, Jordan Luplow struck out swinging before Leon drew the club’s ninth walk of the night. Delino DeShields dropped down a bunt towards first and reached on the infield single for the Tribe’s first hit of the night, breaking up the no-hitter. With two on in the one-run game, Lindor was not able to come through, although he was able to move Leon to third on a fly deep to right for the second out. Hernandez got ahead in the count 3-0 before watching a pair of strikes and swinging at a third to end the inning.
The Pirates added another run in the eighth to extend their lead. Maton struck out Jacob Stallings for the first out before he was relieved by left-hander Oliver Perez. Frazier doubled to right and Hayes fought the count from 0-2 to 3-2 before singling to right to drive in a run, giving Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead. Perez got Moran to ground to second for the second out before walking Bell, putting two on for Polanco. He flied out deep to center to strand a pair.
Chris Stratton retired the side in order in a seven-pitch eighth. Adam Plutko left a runner at second in the top of the ninth after Jared Oliva singled and stole second before Stallings lined to right.
Down to their last three outs, the Indians mounted their rally in Stratton’s second inning of work. Naquin drew a walk on six pitches after falling behind 0-2. Luplow, in a rare right-on-right matchup for him, caught a slider over the plate and drove it deep to left-center for an RBI-double, cutting the Tribe deficit to 3-2. Mike Freeman pinch-hit for Leon and flied to center for the first out, but DeShields delivered with a game-tying single to center to knot the score at three. With the winning run standing at first, Lindor lined the first pitch of his at bat to right for the second out. Hernandez stepped in and watched as DeShields moved up to second on a changeup that got away from Stallings for a wild pitch. Hernandez drew a couple of balls and fouled off a couple of pitches before lacing a double into the right field corner to score the speedy DeShields with ease with the winning run, send the Tribe home with a big victory.
The win for the Indians came at the perfect time. By extending their winning streak to six in a row, they pulled within one game of first place Minnesota (losers on Friday to Cincinnati) with two games left. The Indians need the Reds to sweep the Twins this weekend if they have any chance of claiming the divisional crown. The Indians and White Sox (which lost a home contest against the Cubs on Friday) are now tied for second in the AL Central at 34-24, with the Indians holding the head-to-head advantage after defeating them in eight of ten over the course of the season. Chicago has lost six straight.
The Pirates dropped to 18-40 on the season, 15 games out in the NL Central.
Carrasco’s warmup for his Game Two start in the AL Wild Card series went well as he finished the campaign with a quality outing. He lasted six innings and threw 94 pitches, allowing just two runs on three hits with three walks and eight strikeouts. He struggled some to work ahead in the count, but he had the Pirates hacking away frequently later in their at bats. The strong start dropped his season ERA to 2.91.
Plutko got the win as the pitcher of record in the ninth, moving to 2-2 on the year.
For the second straight start, Keller did not allow a hit, but in one of the most bizarre pitching stat lines of the season, he walked eight (!) batters. He lasted five no-hit frames, giving up a run with three strikeouts while leaving with 98 pitches tossed. Turley pitched a perfect frame and Howard kept the Indians off of the scoreboard despite allowing a hit and a walk in the seventh. Stratton took his first loss of the season, allowing three runs on three hits with a walk and a strikeout in an inning and two-thirds.
DeShields led the Tribe offense with two of their four hits, ending the no-hitter with his first knock and driving in the tying run with his second in the ninth. Indians hitters were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position while stranding eight on a night filled with walks.
“We knew we were better than that,” DeShields said of the team’s recent eight-game losing streak. “We just kept telling ourselves to keep the energy up, don’t panic, we have a good ball club and yeah, we’re just stringing together hits, making pitches, coming up with hits.”
Frazier had two hits for Pittsburgh while Polanco drove in a pair with his seventh homer of the season.
Prior to the game, the Indians recalled left-handed pitcher Logan Allen from the team’s alternate site in Lake County and optioned infielder Yu Chang.
Game two of three from Progressive Field is scheduled for a 7:10 PM ET first pitch on Saturday. The Indians will send right-hander Aaron Civale (4-5, 3.99 ERA) out for his final start of the regular season before sliding into the bullpen for the first round of the playoffs. The Pirates will turn to Joe Musgrove (0-5, 4.68 ERA), who will aim for his first win of the season in his final start.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images