There will be at least two more games at Progressive Field this season, as the Indians, using a pair of three-run innings in the sixth and seventh, rallied back to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the season finale from downtown Cleveland on Sunday.
Combined with the White Sox’s 10-8 loss against the crosstown Chicago Cubs (despite a large late rally that brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth), the Indians have clinched the fourth spot in the American League playoff bracket and will host the New York Yankees in the best-of-three AL Wild Card round beginning Tuesday.
In a bullpen game for the Tribe, they had to rally back twice from deficits to earn the biggest win of the season, one that allowed them to avoid travelling to the site of one of the AL division winners for their first round matchup and instead earned them the privilege of playing host as the team with the best record among the three AL second place clubs.
The Pirates got a pair off of reliever Cal Quantrill to take an early lead. Bryan Reynolds singled in the second before being doubled up on a ground ball. JT Riddle reached safely at second on an error at first by Carlos Santana. Jose Osuna knocked him in with a single to right. Ke’Bryan Hayes made it a 2-0 game with a one-out homer to center in the third, giving him hits in eight straight plate appearances in the series with the Indians.
Pittsburgh’s JT Brubaker had to fight his way out of the first inning. Jose Ramirez was hit by a pitch and Santana started his big day at the plate with a double to right, but Franmil Reyes struck out swinging to strand a pair. The University of Akron product Brubaker gave up a single and a walk in the second, but used a double play in between to keep the bottom of the order quiet.
The Indians tied it up in the third with a big two-out hit. Cesar Hernandez reached with a one-out bunt single and advanced to second on a wild pitch after a line out to left by Ramirez. Santana knotted the game up with a moonshot to the bullpen in center, as his 445-foot clout made it a 2-2 contest.
Phil Maton worked a perfect fourth in relief of Quantrill and Brubaker used another double play ball to stop the Tribe in the bottom of the inning before the Pirates reclaimed the lead. Osuna drilled Cam Hill’s second pitch of the afternoon over the center field wall for a solo homer, making it 3-2. One out later, Adam Frazier doubled to right-center and was joined on base on an intentional walk given to Hayes. Oliver Perez came on in relief and got Colin Moran to ground to second for a force there, but Lindor’s throwing error allowing Frazier to score to extend the lead to 4-2. Perez hit the next batter, Josh Bell, with a sinker in to put two on, but he punched out Reynolds looking to stop the Pirates from doing more damage.
Brubaker retired the side in order in the bottom of the fifth before the Pirates added on to their two-run lead against Nick Wittgren. Riddle singled to right-center with one out and moved to third on a double by Osuna. Andrew Susac walked to load the bases and Frazier came through with huge two-run double to right to score both Riddle and Osuna. Wittgren retired Hayes for the first time since Friday with a strikeout swinging for the second out and got Moran to ground to short to strand a pair.
The Indians cut into the four-run hole in the bottom of the frame to knock out Brubaker. Ramirez launched a ground-rule double down the left field line and Santana joined him on base for the third time on the day with a walk. Reyes got ahead in the count 3-1 before sending a bomb to the left of the center field bullpens for a three-run shot, cutting the score to 6-5. Brubaker exited for Geoff Hartlieb, who got two outs back to the mound before running into some trouble on back-to-back singles to right by Roberto Perez and Oscar Mercado. With a chance to tie the game up, Lindor grounded to second.
James Karinchak pitched one of the biggest innings of the afternoon, striking out the side to get the middle of the Pirates lineup. The Indians continued to ride the momentum shift and jumped on top against left-hander Nik Turley. Hernandez was hit on the foot by a front foot slider to put the leadoff man. He blundered on the bases on a deep drive to center by Ramirez as Reynolds leapt and missed the catch. Hernandez may have been able to score on the play but instead had to hustle hard just to get to third ahead of the throw on the two-base hit from the Tribe’s little MVP candidate. Santana worked the count to 2-2 before lacing a double the opposite way to right to score both speedy runners to put the Indians on top, 7-6. Santana moved to third on a 1-2 wild pitch from Turley, which proved all the more costly as Reyes lofted a fly ball to center, more than deep enough to score Santana from third with a big insurance run.
Adam Cimber came on for work in the top of the eighth and got the first two men on grounders in the infield before he walked the nine-hitter Susac on six pitches, sending interim Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. to the mound for his closer, Brad Hand. He need three pitches to get Frazier to line out to Josh Naylor in left to end the inning.
The Indians were set down in order in the bottom of the eighth to bring Hand back out to the mound looking for the four-out save. He got Hayes on a deep fly to center before striking out Moran on four pitches. Bell sent a high drive towards the right field corner, where Jordan Luplow tracked down the 108 stitches to secure the Indians’ 35th win of the season and the second spot in the division, after the White Sox dropped their game at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“We knew obviously that we had to win the game to give ourselves a chance to stay home. That was our number one goal,” Hand said. “We needed some help with the White Sox losing, but win today and see what happens.”
Hand’s four-out save, his first of the season, extended his Major League lead with number 16 of the campaign. Karinchak earned his first career win as the pitcher of record in the seventh when the Tribe moved on top. With three strikeouts of the three batters that he faced, he concluded his season with 53 Ks in 27 innings of work, an incredible 17.7 K/9 rate.
“He’s his own cheerleader when he’s out there on the mound,” Hand said about his bullpen mate Karinchak. “He’s pumping himself up. Especially with no fans, you gotta find ways to get yourself going at times. He’s been a big piece of our bullpen and he’s definitely a lot of fun to watch pitch.”
Brubaker pitched into the sixth but did not factor in the decision. He worked five-plus frames, charged with five runs on seven hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
The story of the day for the Indians was the strong showing from the heart of the order. Ramirez had two more doubles to give him 16 on the year. He scored a pair of runs. Santana reached all four times, using three extra base hits and a walk to score three times and to drive in four. His homer was his eighth. Reyes had just one hit, his ninth home run, but he added a sacrifice fly late for insurance to give him four RBI, pushing his season total to 34. Naylor added two singles out of the six-spot in the lineup.
“It’s almost like saying getting a monkey off of your back when Franmil hit that home run, because he had a long drought,” said Alomar Jr. “I think he was a little bit pressing on that, he might say no, but he probably was because he hadn’t gone deep in a while. He comes to fight every day, you see that guy, he runs the bases hard all the time.”
“It was just in the right moment to do something big for my team and it was right there,” said Reyes. “I really thank God for the opportunity, I’m really thankful. I’m really, really happy that I did that for the team and the job that Santana and all the guys did today.”
Hayes, one day after a 5-for-5 effort, had two more hits but saw his streak of eight straight plate appearances with a hit come to an end. Frazier had two hits and two RBI in front of him, and Osuna had three hits and a pair of RBI out of the eight-spot.
The Indians will now wait to find out the time of their game against the five-seed New York Yankees. There are a few known things about the pending matchup – the game will be Tuesday, it will happen at an empty Progressive Field, and it will feature an incredible pitching matchup pitting Cy Young winner-to-be Shane Bieber (8-1, 1.63 ERA) against the man who finished second in the vote a year ago, Gerrit Cole (7-3, 2.84 ERA).
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