The recipe is simple. Keep winning and the playoffs at yours. The Indians kept that thought process going on Wednesday night as they defeated the visiting Chicago White Sox 7-2. The game was the final home game of the season for the Indians and the fans showed up in droves as a result. With the team set to possibly make the playoffs for the first time since 2007, interest in the Indians has never been higher. Luckily for those in attendance, the Tribe did not disappoint.
Needing to keep pace with both the Rangers and Rays, both teams won on Wednesday night, the Tribe played smart and solid baseball behind starter Danny Salazar. Over 5.1 innings of work, the young flame thrower allowed two runs to cross the plate on six hits and a walk. He also struck out eight White Sox en route to his second career major league victory.
The White Sox tagged Salazar early in the game on Wednesday and took a 1-0 lead after Avisail Garcia homered to deep left center field. To say that Garcia crushed Salazar’s first pitch fastball would be an understatement as the ball landed 3/4 of the way up the bleachers. It was a no doubt about it shot that immediately put the crowd of 30,000+ on edge.
However, the lead wouldn’t last long. The Indians came roaring back in the bottom of the second. They scored their first run of the game thanks to an error by third baseman Marcus Semien. On a hot-shot off the bat of Drew Stubbs took a wicked hop and caromed off of the Sox third baseman and into left field. This allowed Lonnie Chisenhall, who had reached second on a wild pitch by Dylan Axelrod, to race around and score. Michael Brantley, who was 3-5 out of the lead off spot on Wednesday, followed with a single to put the Tribe ahead 2-1.
The Indians would add on to their lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. With Brantley on second thanks to a one out double, Nick Swisher came to the plate and promptly annihilated a 2-1 breaking ball into the Tribe’s bullpen. The two run shot put the Indians ahead 4-1 and gave the fans an excuse to get the party started. For Swisher, the home run was his 21st on the season and RBI 60 and 61. Despite his struggles this year, he is coming very close to obtaining his typical counting stats once again thanks to a hot September. It was also his first hit in eleven career at bats against Axelrod.
The Sox cut the lead in half in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Dayan Viciedo. Luckily for the Indians that was all they would get out of the deal. Some terrible base running by the White Sox and even worse run down situation defense allowed kept the rally going for Chicago. After catching the White Sox runners in between bases, Asdrubal Cabrera failed to hustle and follow his throw back to second and Lonnie Chisenhall held on to the ball too long, failing to make any sort of decision. Fortunately, Bryan Shaw would have none of that as he struck out the next two Chicago hitters to render the entire sequence a moot point.
The Indians added on three more runs to break the game wide open over the next two innings. Meanwhile, the bullpen did their part to ensure the Tribe would not surrender the lead. In all, they pitched 3.2 scoreless innings and struck out eight of the eleven batters they face on the evening.
However, no performance was quite as exceptional or encouraging as that of the final pitcher of the night for the Indians. WIth the Tribe up convincingly at 7-2, Terry Francona summoned Justin Masterson from the depths of the bullpen in order to get some work in and shake off the rust from being on the disable list. In typical Masterson fashion, he was straight up filthy. In one inning of work he struck out two batters and looked every bit like the Justin Masterson the team had come to rely on this season before the oblique injury. Hopefully this serves as a precursor to his eventual return to the starting rotation.
With the victory, the Indians moved their record to 88-70 on the season and maintained their one game lead over the Rangers for the second wild card spot. They still trail the Rays for the top wild card spot by one game and will need some help over the weekend if they wish to host the Wild Card play in game on Wednesday night.