It saved the Indians’ 8-6 victory over the White Sox and maybe their quest for the postseason.
Mercado, his back turned toward home plate, made a lunging grab of a line drive by Eloy Jimenez that had three runs written all over it. It was the second out of the inning in a game that went from lopsided to tense in the matter of two innings.
“I’d say the understatement of the night is it probably save the game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Mercado’s catch. “It was a great catch, and the timing of it made it even better. You have to be ultra-talented to boot. You have to have good speed and hand-eye coordination to make a play like that.”
Those innings were a nightmare for the Tribe and its bullpen.
The Indians took a 8-2 lead into the eighth, but the White Sox turned that inside out. Jose Abreu hit a two-run homer off Nick Goody in the eighth to make it 8-4. Then Chicago dropped the hammer in the ninth as Tim Anderson hit a two-run homer off closer Brad Hand, who was making his first appearance since Aug. 29.
Hand, who struck out the first batter he faced, loaded the bases after Abreu’s homer. Nick Wittgren relieved and gave up the liner to Jimenez, who has put together a great series against the Tribe, only to be saved by Mercado. Wittgren ended it by striking out Ryan Goins for his fourth save.
“His breaking ball doesn’t quite have the depth that it’s had,” Francona said of Hand. “We really wanted him to pitch tonight because it had been five days. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or not.”
It’s September and the days and games left in the regular season are dwindling. If the Indians want to continue playing baseball when the calendar flips to October, they’re going to have to find a way to win ugly as they did Wednesday night. Maybe not that ugly, but right now it’s time to get down and dirty.
The win was just their ninth in the last 21 games. But they are still waging a two-front race for the postseason as they try to close ground on the Twins in the AL Central, while regaining one of the top two spots in the wild card race.
The Indians (81-59) trail the Twins (86-53) by 5.5 games in the AL Central Division. In the Wild Card Game race, Cleveland is a half-game behind Tampa Bay (82-59) and tied with Oakland (80-58) for the road position.
Shane Bieber (13-7, 3.24) ended a personal three-game losing streak as he went seven innings with nine strikeouts. Bieber held Chicago to two runs. It’s the 20th time in 29 starts that he’s allowed two or fewer runs this season.
“He had to work hard from the first pitch of the game,” Francona said of Bieber. “And to his credit, he stayed out there for seven and gave up two. That’s the sign of a really good pitcher, because it was hard for him tonight.”
Franmil Reyes, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana continued to swing the bat well for the Tribe, but they received contributions from several hitters who haven’t been heard from for a while. Reyes doubled, homered and scored two runs. Lindor singled and scored in the first and doubled in the sixth. Santana doubled home a run in the third to give him 85 RBI for the season.
Other contributions came from Mercado, who had three hits having entered in a 5-for-42 skid. Yasiel Puig, who came into the game in a 8-for-56 dive, had two hits. Rookie third baseman Yu Chang, in an 0-for-8 slump, had two hits and two RBI.
The Indians took a 1-0 lead in the first as Lindor singled, Mercado doubled and Lindor scored on Puig’s slow bouncer to short. But Bieber struggled in the second as he saw six batters and allowed two runs on a sacrifice fly by Yolmer Sanchez and a single by Zach Collins.
Chicago right-hander Ivan Nova (9-12, 4.69) couldn’t hold the lead in his fourth start against the Indians this year. In his first three starts against the Tribe, Nova allowed just five earned in 21 innings. He was not so fortunate Wednesday.
The Indians scored a run in each of the first four innings to take a 4-2 lead. Reyes made it 6-2 in the fifth with a two-run homer to center. It was his 34th overall and seventh since the Indians acquired him from San Diego on July 31. In his last 21 games, Reyes is hitting .319 (22-for-69) with seven homers, 19 RBI and a 1.115 OPS.
When Nova walked Jake Bauers after Reyes’ homer, he was done for the night. He allowed six run on 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings.
The Indians made it 8-2 in the seventh on Chang’s two-out bloop single to left off Kelvin Herrera, scoring Reyes and Jordan Luplow.
The White Sox are rebuilding. They’ve already been eliminated from the AL Central race, but they have tortured the Indians this season. They lead the season series, 8-7, and ruined Carlos Carrasco’s homecoming with a 6-5 come-from-behind win on Tuesday night. They did not stop swinging the bat when faced with a 8-2 deficit.
Rookie right-hander Zach Plesac (7-5, 3.61) starts Thursday afternoon as the Indians end this four-game series and brief homestand against the White Sox. Chicago sends right-hander Reynaldo Lopez (8-12, 5.41) to the mound for the 1:10 p.m. game that will be carried by SportTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM.
Plesac, 5-1 with a 3.09 ERA at home this season, lost to the White Sox on June 2. He allowed two runs in seven innings. Lopez, coming off a loss to Atlanta, will be facing the Indians for the third time this season. He had a no decision against them on May 8 and earned a win on May 13.