In doing so, they turned the pressure of a must-win game into three-hour party on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario to celebrate the final home game of the regular season.
Mercado’s three-run home run with two out in the fifth inning and some inspired pitching by Carlos Carrasco led the Indians to a 10-1 win over the Phillies on Sunday night at Progressive Field. The win pulled them into a tie with Tampa Bay for the road position in the chase for the American League Wild Card Game with identical 92-64 records.
Oakland (94-62) and the Rays started Sunday in possession of the AL’s first two wild card spots. But Oakland lost to Texas, 8-2, while the Rays lost to Boston, 7-4. The Indians went into the game knowing what they had to do and they did it.
How hard has it been for them to gain ground on the A’s and Rays?
The A’s had won four straight and nine of their last 10 games before Sunday. The Rays had won three straight with every win coming in their last at-bat. The Indians, A’s and Rays have six games left in the regular season.
In the AL Central, the Indians stayed four games behind the first-place Twins. Minnesota (96-60) beat Kansas City to reduce its magic number to three for clinching the AL Central and eliminating the Indians.
Manager Terry Francona was glad the Indians answered opportunity’s knock, but added, “We’re at that point of the year where we’ve got to win regardless. I’d be lying if I said I was rooting for them to win, but we’re at a point where we better win every game we can."
The Indians didn’t do a whole lot against right-hander Vince Velasquez (7-8, 4.76) through four innings. He entered the fifth with the scored tied, 1-1, and the bottom of the order coming to the plate.
Greg Allen chopped a ball over Velasquez’s head that was fumbled by shortstop Jean Segura for an error. Roberto Perez bunted Allen to second and received a bonus when he reached first on Velasquez’s error. The Indians probably over-did the bunting thing when Ryan Flaherty attempted another sac-bunt. Valesquez handled it cleanly and threw to third to force Allen.
Francisco Lindor sent a hard grounder to first that bounced off Rhys Hoskins’ glove as Perez and Flaherty advanced. Hoskins recovered in time to get Lindor at first as the air threatened to go out of the inning and the ballpark. Velasquez jumped ahead of Mercado, 0-2, before the rookie center fielder sent a drive into the bleachers in left field for his 13th homer and a 4-1 lead.
Mercado has four homers and 16 RBIs in September. The homer gave Mercado eight extra base hits in his last eight games.
“It was a good feeling,” said Mercado. “Velasquez was on. He was throwing the ball well. He’s a good pitcher. You fall behind in a situation like that and you’re just trying to battle and to see the ball come off the bat like that. . .it’s exciting.”
Adam Plutko started and went 4 1/3 innings. Carrasco relieved with runners on the corners to face J.T. Realmuto. Before Carrasco could throw a pitch, he was greeted by a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd of 25,309 in recognition of how much he has overcome this season to get back on the mound after being diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in June.
The ovation went on and on as Carrasco’s walk up music, "Summer of 69′' by Bryan Adams, blared over the PA system. When Carrasco finally got down to the business of pitching, he induced Realmuto to hit into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play as the cheers grew louder.
It was certainly no accident that the Indians took control of the game in the bottom half of that inning. Carrasco (6-7) finished the night with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. He allowed one hit with three strikeouts.
“To come in at that point of the game and get that double play (was big),” said Francona. “I thought (Mike) Freeman’s turn (at second base) was perfect or we don’t get him. And then for Carrasco to go two plays innings. . .that was the hope, but that’s a big ask. He did a great job."
Said Freeman, who had center fielder Adam Haseley bearing down him, said, “I knew I had to get rid of it quick because Realmuto runs well for a catcher. I was really fired up after that.”
It turned out there was an even bigger inning waiting right around the corner. The Indians scored six runs in the seventh for a 10-1 lead. Lindor singled home the first run before Yasiel Puig hit a three-run double and Franmil Reyes hit his 36th homer of the season, a two-run drive, into the right field seats. Reyes has nine homers with the Tribe and 27 with the Padres.
The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on Realmuto’s two-out double in the third. The Indians tied it in the fourth as Carlos Santana scored from third on a fielder’s choice by Freeman. Santana, who went 3-for-3 against his old team, singled with one out. Puig followed with a drive off the wall in center that sent Santana to third. Puig, however, could only reach first.
Santana slowed before hitting second base because he thought Haseley had a chance to make the catch. That may have slowed Puig or he may have thought he’d hit the ball out of the park.
The Indians ended the home portion of the 2019 regular season with an attendance of 1,738,642. Last year they drew 1,926,701.
The Indians are off Monday before starting their last trip of the regular season with a three-game series against the White Sox (68-87) on Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago. Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale will start for the Tribe, while the White Sox start lefties Hector Santiago and Ross Detwiler and right-hander Dylan Cease.
The White Sox, eliminated in the AL Central and wild card race, lead the season series against the Tribe at 9-7.