An emotionally charged week may have left the Cleveland Indians a little empty on Saturday as the Pittsburgh Pirates outperformed them in all facets in an 8-0 shutout.
With the Pirates playing for seeding in their pursuits of the top pick in next July’s draft at the end of their year, the Indians had some things at stake entering the penultimate game of the 2020 regular season slate. The division title was still up for grabs, but was going to require a sweep of the Pirates while the Cincinnati Reds were going to need to sweep the Minnesota Twins, which would have put the Indians in position for the second or third spot in the bracket. If that fell through, the Indians could still beat out the Chicago White Sox for the second spot in the American League Central, which would net them the fourth seed against the New York Yankees. A couple of losses would drop the Indians to the seventh spot ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, forced to travel to either Oakland or to the site of the AL Central victors.
Unfortunately for the Tribe, they were routed while both Minnesota and Chicago won their respective matchups.
Aaron Civale was lit up in his final start of the regular season and, for the first time in 12 starts, was prohibited from reaching six innings while giving up every run scored by Pittsburgh in the early onslaught. It brought some early clarity to the playoff picture ahead of the eventual wins by the Twins and White Sox over the Reds and Cubs.
It was a slow burn early. Pittsburgh got on the board with a single tally in the first as Ke’Bryan Hayes doubled to right with one out and scored on a single to center by Colin Moran. Civale stranded a pair to get out of that inning, but a long ball by Jose Osuna to right with one out in the second doubled the Pirates lead to 2-0.
The Indians had a tough time getting going against winless right-hander Joe Musgrove. Jose Ramirez reached on a ground rule double with two outs in the first but advanced no further. Franmil Reyes led off the second with a single to left, but Musgrove struck out the next three in order to leave him there.
The Pirates broke things open in a big third inning. Hayes continued the hot start to his rookie effort with a double to right-center. He moved to third on a grounder from Moran and scored on a single to first by Josh Bell to make it 3-0. Gregory Polanco flied to right for the second out, but Bryan Reynolds popped a 2-0 fastball over the wall in left-center to give Pittsburgh a 5-0 advantage.
The Indians had a pair of base runners in the third, but ran themselves out of a big inning. Francisco Lindor singled with one out before he was thrown out trying to stretch it to two bases. Cesar Hernandez followed with a walk before Ramiez struck out swinging.
Pittsburgh added two more in the fourth in Civale’s final frame of the season. Jacob Stallings singled to left-center with one down and was joined on base on a single by Hayes, his third hit in as many at bats. Moran gave the game its final score two pitches later, parking a 1-0 curveball deep to right for the backbreaking three-run shot, putting Pittsburgh up, 8-0.
The Indians turned to Triston McKenzie in the fifth in his second career relief appearance and he stopped the bleeding, striking out three in two perfect innings. Logan Allen worked the remainder of the night, giving up a single to Hayes in the seventh, a double and a walk in a scoreless eighth, and another hit to Hayes, a double for his fifth hit of the contest, before striking out the next three.
Musgrove retired the final 13 batters that he faced in order to get him through seven innings. Nick Tropeano came on in relief in the eighth and was tagged quickly for a double by Jordan Luplow, but Mike Freeman popped to third before groundouts by Delino DeShields and Austin Hedges. Dovydas Neverauskas let two reach in garbage time in the ninth, but he completed the shutout to move Pittsburgh to 19-40 on the year and 6-21 on the road.
The loss moved the Indians to 34-25 on the season, one in back of the White Sox and eliminated from the divisional race that will go to either Minnesota or Chicago.
Hayes shot his batting average up to .370 on the year with a career day at the plate, going 5-for-5 with three runs scored. Moran drove in four with a pair of hits, including his tenth home run, and Reynolds had two RBI on his seventh homer of the campaign.
Cleveland had five hits, two for extra bases, while drawing just two walks.
Civale was charged with all eight runs on ten hits. He dropped to 4-6 with the defeat and saw his season ERA balloon to 4.74 in his 82-pitch effort. The bullpen worked five shutout innings of three-hit baseball behind him.
“This was not the way anyone wants to end the season,” Civale said. “Honestly, I’m not too sure what happened. Tonight definitely is going to sting.”
Civale will work out of the bullpen for the Indians during the first round of the postseason.
Musgrove threw seven shutout innings to get his first win of the season. He allowed three hits and a walk while striking out ten. Both relievers allowed a hit in otherwise scoreless efforts.
The two clubs will meet one final time in the regular season finale on Sunday afternoon in league-wide 3:10 PM ET starts. The Pirates will turn to right-hander and Ohio native JT Brubaker (1-3, 4.46 ERA), while the Indians will call on righty Cal Quantrill (2-0, 2.17 ERA) to start a bullpen game for the club.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images