Before the 2017 baseball season began, I went in with IPL co-owner Susan Petrone and a third party to purchase a quarter-season ticket plan: two tickets to 20 Indians home games to divide among the three of us. When it became time to decide which of us would attend which games, I saw to my delight that two of the tickets were for Sunday, October 1, the final game of the season, and that those tickets had yet to be chosen. I was glad to take them, because I thought that the AL Central race was going to be a close one, and that the final game of the season might have playoff implications, as it did in 2013.
Of course, I was wrong about the AL Central being close this year. The Indians won it handily, thanks mostly to the amazing 22-game winning streak which began in late August and didn’t end until the middle of September. Game 162 didn’t really mean much at all. But it was a game the Indians wanted to win. You could tell that by seeing the lineup that Terry Francona put together. Rest a regular? Not today. Francisco Lindor, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Ramirez, Jay Bruce, Carlos Santana: all of these players were in the starting lineup.
And the strategy worked, thanks to a very shaky first inning of work from Chicago White Sox starter Chris Volstad, who walked the first three batters in the lineup. One batter later, Bruce drove in two runs with a single to right field, followed by a Santana sacrifice fly. After 24 pitches, the Indians were up 3-0.
Those were the only runs the Tribe would score all afternoon, but thanks to the stellar pitching of Josh Tomlin and the usual suspects in the bullpen, they were the only runs the Tribe would need. Tomlin gave up a fifth-inning solo homer to Rob Brantly to make the score 3-1, but the White Sox bats were silent for the rest of the game. Tomlin started and pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing four hits while striking out six and walking nobody. Wanting to ensure that as many relievers got their work in as possible, Francona used six different men to pitch the remaining 3 2/3 innings. Andrew Miller faced two batters in the eighth inning and got each batter out on three strikes. Cody Allen faced three batters in the ninth, retiring them all with ease.
As I predicted he would do (not that makes me Nostradamus or anything; any good manager would have done what he did), Francona began pulling his starters from the game in the sixth inning, thus giving at-bats to six more players before the game ended. How much of that was done simply to give some starters a break, and how much of it was done because Francona genuinely isn’t sure who to leave off the 25-man postseason roster, is not for me to say. I’m just glad I don’t have to be the one who determines who makes the cut and who doesn’t.
The AL wild card game takes place on Tuesday, when the Minnesota Twins go to New York to play the Yankees. One of these teams will lose the game and go home to their wives and children. The other team will go to Cleveland to face the Indians in a best of five series, starting on Thursday.
The fun is just beginning.