Ugly, sloppy or abbreviated, the Cleveland Indians will take wins any way they can get them right now.
This is no time to be picky. This is playoff time.
Zach McAllister lasted five innings and the Indians got two unearned gift runs from Houston in a 2-1, rain-shortened victory over the Astros on Friday night and moved into one of the two AL wild-card spots.
The game was delayed for 1 hour, 9 minutes before the umpires decided to call it after 6 1/2 innings. Shortly after Cleveland’s win, Texas lost to Kansas City, allowing the Indians to jump the Rangers in the wild-card standings. It’s the first time the Indians have been atop the ever-changing board since Aug. 4.
”For us to be able to get this win, regardless of how we got it, it’s all about the `Ws’ at this point,” first baseman Nick Swisher said. ”And if we keep winning, the season keeps going, and hopefully everyone here in Cleveland gets real happy.”
The Indians, who entered the night trailing both Tampa Bay and Texas by one-half game for a wild-card spot, scored an unearned run in the second and fourth innings off Brett Oberholtzer (4-4).
McAllister (9-9) allowed just one run and got a key double play in the fifth as well as a diving catch by center fielder Michael Bourn in the first inning, a defensive gem that set the tone.
Cleveland also got two innings of hitless relief from Marc Rzepczynski and Bryan Shaw, who struck out three of four batters he faced for his first save.
Brandon Laird homered for the inept Astros, who committed three errors, lost their seventh straight and fell to 51-103 – four losses shy of matching the club record set last season.
”Errors are a part of the game,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. ”We all know that, but at the same time you expect those plays to be made in a major league baseball game.”
The win improved Cleveland’s record to 48-18 against teams currently below .500 – the majors’ best mark – and perhaps the biggest reason the Indians have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
With a very favorable schedule ahead, the Indians were hoping to capitalize on a four-game series against baseball’s worst team to stay in the wild-card fray. They needed 11 innings on Thursday to finally beat Houston, 2-1, and then got a major assist from the awful Astros – and Mother Nature – to win again.
As they waited out the delay, Indians fans kept tabs on the Tampa Bay-Baltimore and Texas-Kansas City games on Progressive Field’s giant scoreboard. It was a similar scene in Cleveland’s clubhouse as players stayed tuned to the action elsewhere.
”There’s 18 TVs in here, there’s games all over the place,” Swisher said. ”There’s games you might not even want to be watching that are on. Right now, it’s watch time. We’ve got ourselves in a great spot and just to be able to be here, a complete turnaround from last year, it’s exciting. It’s nice. It feels like people are jumping on board right now and it’s the perfect time to do it.”
McAllister worked in and out of trouble in the fifth, when his slim lead seemed about to vanish.
The Astros loaded the bases on a single, walk and single, but the right-hander got leadoff hitter Jonathan Villar to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play to preserve Cleveland’s 2-1 lead.
McAllister threw four straight balls to Jose Altuve to start the sixth and was immediately lifted by Indians manager Terry Francona, who wasn’t going to wait for the situation to worsen and went to his bullpen. Rzepczynski came on and got two outs – one when catcher Carlos Santana threw out Altuve trying to steal – before Shaw struck out Chris Carter.
With the heavy rain approaching, and the weather forecast looking bleak, the Indians took a 2-1 lead in the fourth thanks to two errors by the Astros on one play.
Ryan Raburn hit a one-out single and Asdrubal Cabrera walked. Michael Brantley then hit a grounder to first baseman Carter, who tried to get a forceout at second but threw wildly into left field, allowing Raburn to score. Both runners advanced when a throw to the plate by left fielder Marc Krauss hit a sliding Raburn in the shoulder and the ball skipped to the backstop, a sequence more suited to a Little League field than a major league ballpark.
McAllister got two quick outs in the second before Laird’s fourth homer gave the Astros a 1-0 lead.
NOTES: The Indians are 14 games over .500 for the first time since May 24, 2011. … Indians RHP Justin Masterson (oblique) threw a 33-pitch bullpen session, and it’s possible the All-Star could pitch if the Indians make the postseason. Masterson, who has been out since Sept. 2, will be re-evaluated Saturday and could throw a simulated game as soon as Monday. … The Indians have spread around the walk-off wealth. They have had 10 wins in their final at-bat with nine different players getting the game-winning hit. Jason Kipnis is the only player with two walk-off hits. … Aviles snapped an 0-for-23 slid with a double in the sixth.