Indians revel in the moment as they win top AL wild card spot
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Cleveland Indians bottled their emotions as they won game after game after game while the baseball season wound down.
They showed up, played and talked about showing up the next day.
But Sunday … finally … when Jason Kipnis dove to stop a ball and threw to pitcher Justin Masterson for the final out of a 5-1 win … the feelings were released.
And it turned into scenes to remember for a team that a year ago lost 94 games and this year won 92 -- and earned a wild card game Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
Among them …
---Carlos Santana bringing two champagne bottles and pouring them over Ubaldo Jimenez as Jimenez talked with the media about how well he pitched in the wild card clinching win.
---Nick Swisher spraying champagne into a TV camera.
---Several players pouring champagne on team CEO Paul Dolan, with Dolan grabbing a bottle and pouring it on himself.
---Michael Bourn, Zach McAllister and Mike Aviles dousing the bald head of their manager.
---Team media relations guru Bart Swain reaching out from a group of players and flipping his phone to co-hort Court Berry-Tripp to save it as several players doused Swain with beer.
---Swisher walking down the hallway outside the clubhouse, talking about folks celebrating “in the 2-1-6” and adding. “I love winning, boys. I. Love. Winning.”
To call it pure joy is almost an understatement.
"Look at this," Swisher said. "Everybody high-fiving. We got champagne. We got it all."
The team that couldn’t, or that many believed wouldn’t, let loose after they did -- after they became only the sixth team in major league history to win 10 in a row to end the season, after they swept the Twins on the road, after they earned the top wild card spot and brought a playoff game to Progressive Field Wednesday night.
“I don’t think anybody on the planet thought we would be where are right now,” Swisher said.
Francona stood in the middle of it all, and reveled in it. He also talked about how special it was for him and his coaches to stand in a group and watch the players celebrate just off the pitcher’s mound.
“It’s like the culmination of everything you’ve gone through -- all the ups and downs -- and you see guys from different countries, different upbringings and they’re jumping on the pile,” Francona said. “It’s just pure joy. It makes you feel good.”
“It’s an extraordinary moment for this franchise,” team CEO Paul Dolan said.
The way the Indians won the final game was fitting, because it showed all the elements of the team that came together to match the greatest season-to-season improvement in wins (24) in franchise history.
First was Jimenez, who retired 17 in a row after giving up a leadoff single and was dominant from the start. He led the league in losses a year ago, but this year he was the guy the Indians wanted pitching the final day, as Francona admitted he and the coaches adjusted the rotation so Jimenez could start Sunday.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Jimenez said. “A perfect moment.”
The game started with Michael Bourn singling and Nick Swishing giving the Indians a 2-0 lead with a home run. Two of the significant offseason additions getting the team going.
Those additions meshed with holdovers like Justin Masterson, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley to form a whole far greater than the individual parts.
The Indians got contributions from many, from pitching coach Mickey Callaway to rookie reliever Cody Allen to young starter Danny Salazar to the “goon squad” on the bench to third base coach Brad Mills, a longtime friend of Francona’s who gave him a long hug in the clubhouse while the players celebrated. A team that can’t afford to pay the huge money to any one player needs to have this kind of team, this kind of contribution from many different players.
“I don’t think we could have done this without everybody,” Francona said. “You start naming names, and I don’t think we could have done it without everybody. That’s just the way our team is constructed. From the front office to the training staff to the clubhouse guys to our coaching staff -- it’s been a ‘we’ thing all year. And that’s the only way we could do it.”
The Indians will host the wild card game Wednesday night against the winner of Monday’s play-in game between Tampa Bay and Texas. Danny Salazar will start.
“He’s next in line and he’s pitching great,” Francona said.
As he spoke, the whoops and yells and claps on the back continued.
“There’s been a lot of good people here that deserve this,” Francona said. “And the only way we can accomplish this is by doing it together. And we did.
“We pulled it off.”