The Indians (93-57) officially clinched the division Saturday night when the Minnesota Twins lost to the Toronto Blue Jays. That meant the celebration had to wait a bit until after Sunday’s game, win or lose. They got to celebrate in style, first with a message for fans from Indians manager Terry Francona prior to the game and then with a victory on the field, helping their chances of maintaining home-field advantage in the American League during the postseason.
The Indians used seven scoreless innings from ace Corey Kluber and one key swing from Edwin Encarnacion as the decisive blows before being able to hold off a Royals’ rally.
Kluber (17-4) allowed only three hits and struck out nine on Sunday, lowering his season ERA to 2.35 and extending his innings scoreless streak to 22. During the 22-game winning streak, he went 4-0 with a 1.41 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 32 innings, as he potentially passed Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale as the favorite for the American League Cy Young Award. The nine strikeouts on Sunday also gave him 252 for the season, making him just the fifth different pitcher in Indians history to top 250 strikeouts.
The Royals’ best chance to get to Kluber came in the seventh. Trailing 2-0, the Royals (73-76) loaded with the bases with two outs. Kluber’s 99th pitch of the day shattered Alex Gordon’s bat, leading to a harmless groundout to end the inning.
Most of the Indians’ damage on Sunday came via Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run home run in the fourth, a 415-foot shot down the left-field line off Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy (8-9). It was Encarnacion’s 36th home run of the season. It also pushed his team-high RBI total to 94 for the year.
The Indians added an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh. With runners on the corners and one out, Giovanny Urshela grounded into a fielder’s choice but was able to beat the throw to first to score the run, making it 3-0.
With Kluber out of the game, the Royals cut the lead to one run against Bryan Shaw and Tyler Olson in the eighth. Shaw struck out the first batter he faced but then allowed back-to-back singles to bring the tying run to the plate. Olson entered, getting Eric Hosmer to ground out as the second out of the inning.
Facing Brandon Moss, Olson thought he had delivered strike three with a breaking ball and took two steps off the mound, but it was called a ball. Moss then singled up the middle, bringing home two runs.
The Indians turned to closer Cody Allen for a four-out save, shutting the door for his 28th save this season.
The Indians’ sellout was their third consecutive and 12th of the season. That’s their highest mark for sellouts in a season since they had 34 in 2001.
©2017 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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