A walk-off, 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox Wednesday night clinched a playoff berth for the Cleveland Indians. Jose Ramírez hit the winning three-run homer that set off a wild celebration at home plate as the Indians reached the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
WKSU’s sports commentator Terry Pluto says this unusual pandemic-shortened season has been filled with many ups and downs for the Tribe.
The Indians entered the final stretch of the season comfortably positioned for the postseason. Then came an eight-game losing streak beginning Sept. 8. While the pitching has been solid, the hitting went cold. Pluto said there was a moment he wondered whether they would blow it. They've won five out of their last six after snapping the losing streak. The expanded playoffs include 16 teams, eight from each league.
Indians manager Terry Francona has missed a majority of this season dealing with health concerns, specifically gastrointestinal and blood clot issues. The team has also been without bench coach Brad Mills, who opted out, and hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo who also stepped away.
Pluto doesn't believe Francona will return to the dugout this season.
Alomar becomes an 'unsung hero'
In Francona's place has been first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., who was actually going to become the Indians' manager in 2013, until Francona expressed interest in the job. Despite some ups and downs, Pluto said Alomar has done a good job.
“Remember, they had the situation too where pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac blew team rules and the curfew. It ended up with Clevinger getting traded," he said. "They had the eight game losing streak and that was going to be a turning point for Sandy Alomar. But that’s why I look at this and say the Indians have done pretty well this season."
Carrasco’s comeback, the other 'unsung hero'
Following his fight with Leukemia last year, Pluto said many questioned whether pitcher Carlos "Cookie" Carrasco would have the stamina to return this season as a starter. While spring training was shut down, he built a pitcher's mound just outside his house in Florida and fired fastballs to his neighbor, who plays in college.
The 33-year-old has had 35 strikeouts in his last five starts and a 1.41 ERA.
“He’s had a couple of bad starts in the middle of the year, but he’s gotten stronger,” Pluto said.
A pitching staff to fear
The Indians finally got a surge from third baseman Jose Ramirez, who is hitting .500 (14 of 28) with six homers and 16 RBIs in his last seven games. Pluto said that while the Indians haven't been one of the best teams in the American League this season because of their lack of hitting, he believes their pitching could take them far.
“When you go into the playoffs and think, ‘Well, do I want to play the Indians in a best of three series?’ I don’t care who you are. No. 1 will be Shane Bieber, and nobody wants to face him. Probably the second pitcher will be Zach Plesac and then there’s Carrasco for your third game,” he said.
The Indians likely will be the No. 7 seed in the Wild Card Series set to being Sept. 29. They'd face the No. 2 seed White Sox in a best-of-three game series to be played in Chicago.