Plutko is no rookie, but he was facing the Yankees for the first time in his career and he handled the assignment well in 8-4 win by the Indians at Progressive Field.
He had a lot of help against a familiar foe — left-hander CC Sabathia. Manager Terry Francona filled his lineup card with as many right-handed hitters as he could find because as he said before the game, “CC is beating up lefties.”
While Plutko allowed a two-run homer to Didi Gregorius, fresh off the injured list, in the first inning, the Tribe’s right-handed hitters waited patiently for their chance against Sabathia. It arrived in the fourth as Carlos Santana singled to right and Jordan Luplow doubled him to third with a drive down the left-field foul line.
Jose Ramirez made it 2-1 with a sacrifice fly to right that scored Santana and pushed Luplow to third. Catcher Roberto Perez, making his season debut at DH to give Francona one more right-handed hitter, sent a long fly ball to the top of the 19-foot wall in left center field. For a moment it looked like a home run, but it was ruled a double as Luplow scored to make it a 2-2 game.
The call stood after a crew chief review of 35 seconds. Replays of the play showed the ball bouncing off the top of the yellow line. It has to clear the line to be a home runs.
“Adam threw a get-me-over breaking ball to Didi and he hit it where he can hit it,” Francona said. “After that he settled down and started going to both sides of the plate. He threw his change up and and we played some defense.”
The Indians made it 4-2 with two out in the fourth. Francisco Lindor doubled past third and rookie Oscar Mercado brought him home with a homer to right center. It was Mercado’s third homer in 20 big-league games and second in June. Francona said a couple of days ago that the organization didn’t really know what kind of player Mercado was going to be. He added that it was going to be interesting to find out.
Indeed it is. Mercado went 2 for 4 with two RBI on Saturday. He’s hitting .300 (21-for-70) with seven extra base hits, including three homers, and seven RBI.
In the sixth, Luplow robbed Brett Gardner of extra bases when he caught his drive to the fence in right field. D.J. LeMahieu sent a liner back to the mound that Plutko snagged.
“Luplow’s catch was huge,” Plutko said. "It completely changed the inning. He picked me up huge. We’re trying to shut down that inning after getting a lead. I’m not trying to give them any life. If he doesn’t catch that, it gives them a little life.
“He caught it and it changed the entire inning and maybe the entire game.”
Perez, after just missing a homer in the fourth, left no doubt about the authenticity of his drive in the sixth. He ended an eight-pitch at-bat by sending an 86 mph cut fastball from Jonathan Holder onto the home run porch in left field for a 6-2 lead. Perez’s 11th homer of the season traveled 447 feet and almost hit the Miller Lite sign on the bridge connecting the Terrace Club to the parking garage above the home run porch.
It was Perez’s fourth homer in his last four games, something he’s never done in his career. The last Indians player to homer in four straight games was Mike Napoli, who homered in five straight from July 30 through Aug. 3 during the 2016 season.
“Right now I’m swinging with confidence, going pitch by pitch and not trying to do too much," said Perez. “I’m trying to put the ball in play and make something happen.”
Kevin Plawecki, catching for the second straight game, followed Perez with another homer in the seventh for a 7-2 lead.
The Yankees scored twice in the seventh to make it 7-4. Gregorius knocked Oliver Perez flat on his back with a line drive single to the mound. Perez tried to throw Gregorius out from the seat of his pants, but his throw bounced past Santana at first for an error. Greybar Torres doubled home Gregorius from second and came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Gio Urshela.
Plutko (2-1, 5.19) allowed two runs on three hits in six innings. He struck out four and didn’t walk a batter. Sabathia (3-3, 3.96), drafted, developed and brought to the big leagues by the Indians, allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings.
Sabathia, retiring at the end of the season, tweaked his left knee fielding a bouncer by Plawecki to start the fifth inning. He did not come out for the sixth.
Plawecki’s sacrifice fly made it 8-4 in the eighth, but Francona went to closer Brad Hand in the ninth even though it wasn’t a save situation. Hand was pitching for the fifth time in the last eight days, but Francona likes to use his closer with a four-run lead. His thinking being that if a runner gets on base, he’s going to go to his closer anyway so why not let him start with a clean inning?
Hand retired three of the four men he faced so he wasn’t overly taxed. The Indians are 4-1 on this home stand against the Twins and Yankees. They have won five of their last seven.
The Indians and Yankees will end this three-game series at 1:10 p.m. on Sunday as Shane Bieber (5-2, 3.57) starts for the Tribe. Reliever Chad Green (1-2, 9.16) is expected to start for the Yankees in place of Masahiro Tanaka, who was placed on the maternity list and left the team to be with his wife who just gave birth. SportsTime Ohio and WLKR FM 95.3 will carry the game.
Bieber is coming off a seven-inning win over the Twins on Tuesday. He has won his last three decisions. This will be his second career start against New York.
Green has allowed one earned in his last 5 1/3 innings. In his career, he’s 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA against the Tribe in five games, including one start.