Indians clinch AL Central at 91-65
The Cleveland Indians defeated the Detroit Tigers 7-4 tonight and clinched the AL Central Division. The team returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and it is their first division win since 2007. Coco Crisp contributed a two-run home run to open the scoring, and Roberto Perez notched three hits, two RBI, and a run, all coming in critical moments of the game.
The win did not come without hand-wringing; let us all hope that it comes without a cost. Corey Kluber left the game after sixty pitches with what the Indians twitter account reported as the following:
Corey Kluber left tonight's game with right groin tightness.— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) September 27, 2016
At the time of writing, we do not know anything else about Kluber's condition. It might be nothing. It might be precautionary. It might be a boner jam. It's impossible to say anything at this juncture, except that we hope the Indians ace is ready to rock and roll in the postseason. If he needs to skip his next start, so be it; a healthy Corey Kluber is more important than home field advantage in a hypothetical ALCS.
For now, let's focus this game, and then look back at the rest of the season. Against Detroit tonight the Indians refused to let them back in the game after trading two-run home runs in the second inning. Kipnis doubled and Napoli punched a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth. Then, Roberto Perez provided some of the biggest insurance runs of the season. After Miguel Cabrera singled Ian Kinsler home in the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers clawed back within one run. Roberto Perez homered to the opposite field and pushed them back down. When — ONCE AGAIN — Cabrera hit a nasty inside pitch for a single to score Kinsler in the seventh, Perez laced a single into the outfield and pushed the lead back to two. Rajai Davis added one more run thanks to a stolen base and an error by JD Martinez.
The Tigers would not score again, and the Indians slammed the door on the Tigers once and for all in the division with shutout work from Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. I never get tired of writing their names together.
Before we all go celebrate, let's take a moment to consider what the players heard about their team during the year. To start with, look at the reactions to the off-season signing of Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Marlon Byrd and Juan Uribe. Fans and pundits alike wondered whether or not the Indians wasted an opportunity to make a splash and sign Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, or another star-studded bat in Free Agency. I even recorded an iffy song about it. The players heard that the roster wouldn't be good enough to make a run for the postseason. Now, despite numerous injuries and challenges, they've punched a ticket to the playoffs.
While two of these signings are no longer with the team, it's difficult to argue that the league leader in steals and a legitimate right-handed power bat didn't contribute more to this team than anyone believed they could. However you feel about Marlon Byrd's suspension or Uribe's play in the field, they provided stability while the team sorted out injuries; while Terry Francona figured out how to juggle his outfielders and finally slotted Ramirez at 3B; while Indians fans awaited the emergence of Tyler F'n Naquin.
The production on the field is only a part of it. In a year during which multiple young players flourished — Jose Ramirez, Tyler Naquin, and once again Francisco Lindor — is there any question that the veteran presence brought into the clubhouse helped these players improve? Remember when the story broke that Ramirez and Uribe joked about being father and son? I cannot believe it is wholly a coincidence that this is the year in which Ramirez found his confidence at the plate. Lindor commented earlier in the season that Napoli would pull him aside before at-bats and tell him what to look for based on the game situation. Naquin talked about being overwhelmed when he got the call, and before the end of the season he overwhelmed us with one of the most memorable finishes in franchise history.
There is still work to be done for this Indians team, and not just in the postseason. The Indians can catch the Texas Rangers (who lost tonight to the Milwaukee Brewers) or Boston Red Sox (who did not play tonight, but finish with three against the Yankees, then the Blue Jays) for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They're only one game back, and this team proves time and again that there is not a challenge that they are not willing to face.
One final note from tonight's game: the celebrations by the players are beautiful. If you head over to twitter you can see dozens of videos and photos of the players celebrating, but I'd like to highlight my two favorite moments from the night. First, one that we cannot see, but is brought to our attention by Zack Meisel.
Michael Brantley has to protect his shoulder, so he's watching the fracas from afar. So Yan Gomes brought over a beer for the two to share.— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) September 27, 2016
Then, the second: after the win, Terry Francona lined up the Indians and hugged every single player and coach on the roster. At the end of the line? MIke Napoli. Here's how the two greeted each other:
Let's hope for some more tremendous, manly bear hugs after the team brings home the Commissioner's Trophy.