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Ryan Merritt’s strong start the key to 7-2 Cleveland Indians win

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Ryan Merritt got his first major-league win after pitching five strong innings

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals
Ryan Merritt
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Indians 7, Royals 2

Box score

Indians improve to 92-67

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We’re in the midst of a twilight period for the Indians, in which the games count, but not really. The Indians are trying to overtake the Boston Red Sox for home field advantage in the ALDS, but at the same time set up the pitching for the playoffs. But tonight the Indians were able to do both, thanks to the pitching of Ryan Merritt.

Who is Ryan Merritt? Good question, because very few Indians fans really know who he is, and I don’t say that to denigrate Indians fans. He’s been on the 40-man roster all season but was used by the Indians rarely, and only in blowout situations. He’s never been considered much of a prospect but has consistently succeeded in whatever minor-league level he’s pitched at. You can understand why scouts don’t see him sticking around in a major-league rotation, but then again, Josh Tomlin has carved out a major-league career doing the same thing. But then you can point to a number of control artists who quickly washed out once MLB hitters saw them a couple times.

Thanks to all the injuries to the rotation, the Indians have been giving innings to practically every pitcher on the 40-man roster, and tonight it was Merritt’s turn to pitch. He had last pitched on September 12, and in that game he only went two-thirds of an inning. So expectations weren’t high, either for how long he’d go or for how effective he’d be. I was fully expecting an ugly bullpen game, not the thing of beauty that happened.

Merritt on the mound moves around quite a bit, stretching his arms over his head, adjusting his uniform, but when he starts his delivery everything becomes smooth. There’s very little going on his mechanics, and you can see why he’s always had very low walk rates. He had some trouble in the first, though a couple of the hits off him were on broken-bat hits. But he wasn’t fazed by giving up the early lead; after giving up an RBI single to Eric Hosmer, he retired the next 13 batters he faced, and that set up the Indians to finish the game out with their big four relievers (Otero, Shaw, Miller, Allen).

The Tribe offense scored in bursts, scoring in only two innings (the third and seventh innings), but scoring 4 and 3 runs in those innings respectively. Carlos Santana, who has taken up the slack while Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli struggled in September, was in the middle of all the offense, driving in the first two Tribe runs on a triple in the third inning. Not many Royal regulars were in the lineup, and that burned them in a couple situations. Both of Santana’s extra-base hits may have been caught had, for instance, Jarrod Dyson been in center, and third baseman-turned-outfielder Hunter Dozier made a very poor throw home on a fly ball to shallow right, allowing Santana to score easily.

Besides Santana, Francisco Lindor was the other big offensive story. He’s been mired in a horrific slump, having gone 29 at-bats without a base hit. So when he doubled as part of that third-inning outburst, he celebrated once he got to second base (and wasn’t intended in any way to show up Yordano Ventura). But I guess Ventura didn’t understand that, so when he next faced Lindor, plunked him in the hip. No benches cleared or anything, but even so, it was a rather bizarre reaction from the Royals pitcher. But enough about Ventura. Lindor would later hit a three-run homer to break the game open, this time batting right-handed. Let’s hope that this game gets him going in time for the playoffs.

Terry Francona was going to get his key relievers into the game tonight just to keep them fresh. The Indians got blown out on Tuesday, only played five-plus innings on Wednesday, and didn’t play at all on Thursday. So even if the Indians had been down 7 runs, we would have seen Otero, Shaw, Miller, and Allen. But because Merritt pitched so well, it just so happened that those appearances also served to maintain a lead.

Yan Gomes made his first appearance in an Indians uniform since July 17th, entering the game in the 7th inning as a defensive replacement. It’s very doubtful that he’ll make the playoff roster, mainly because he hasn’t had a major-league at-bat in 2.5 months, but it was good to see him get back into a game after all that’s happened this year.

The only bad thing that happened tonight happened elsewhere, as the Boston Red Sox came from behind to beat the Blue Jays 5-3. The Indians need to gain 1.5 games on Boston between now and Monday (if the game against Detroit is played) to have home-field advantage in the ALDS. With Texas winning tonight, they no longer have any hope of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.