CLEVELAND, Ohio — Walk-off wins are becoming as commonplace as temperature checks for the Cleveland Indians in 2020. And right now, the Indians are red hot.
Dormant for most of Friday’s game, Cleveland’s offense came to life in the ninth inning, rallying from a two-run deficit to defeat Pittsburgh, 4-3, on Cesar Hernandez’s RBI double to right. It was Cleveland’s third walk-off win in its last four games.
The victory extends Cleveland’s winning streak to six and pulls the Indians even with the White Sox for second place in the American League Central Division, one game behind first-place Minnesota. The White Sox and Twins both lost Friday, meaning the Indians can clinch a home series in the Wild Card round with wins on Saturday and Sunday.
Tyler Naquin opened the ninth with a leadoff walk and scored on an RBI double by Jordan Luplow that just missed clearing the 19-foot wall in left-center field. Luplow scored the tying run on a hit up the middle by Delino DeShields Jr off Pirates righty Chris Stratton. DeShields then advanced to second on a wild pitch, setting the stage for Hernandez’s second walk-off hit of the season.
Indians acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said Hernandez was the right guy to have at the plate in that moment.
“When the situation is that you need a guy to get a key hit with two outs, he’s been the guy,” Alomar said. “We are gonna get opportunities to drive in runs, but those three guys on top of the lineup have been very special lately.”
Adam Plutko (2-2, 4.88) pitched a scoreless ninth for Cleveland to pick up his second win.
Pittsburgh righty Mitch Keller struggled to find the strike zone early, but Indians hitters failed to capitalize on Keller’s season-high eight walks, scoring just once on a double-play grounder by Carlos Santana with the bases loaded in the first inning to grab a 1-0 lead.
It looked like that was all the offense Carrasco would need as he cruised through the first 3 2/3 innings allowing only a walk to Pittsburgh leadoff hitter Adam Frazier. At one point, Carrasco retired 11 straight batters, including striking out the side in the third inning.
But a two-out single to Josh Bell set the stage for Gregory Polanco to follow with his seventh home run of the season, a two-run blast to the seats in right field that reached an exit velocity of greater than 113 mph, according to Statcast, and put Pittsburgh in front, 2-1.
Polanco was sitting on Carrasco’s first-pitch changeup, a pitch that had helped the right-hander to seven strikeouts by that point in the game. But Polanco, who had popped to right field in his first at-bat, was ready when he saw it again.
Alomar said after that Carrasco settled back in.
“He had a little trouble in the sixth and then got a double play and got out of it,” Alomar said. “We pulled him out for pitch count and I’m encouraged with what I saw. He struck out eight guys and walked three but he’s still throwing 95. That’s pretty good.”
Keller, meanwhile, did not allow an Indians base hit in five innings on the heels of six hitless innings against St. Louis on Sept 19. According to STATS LLC, he’s the first National League pitcher with back-to-back no-hit outings of five innings or more since Johnny Vander Meer’s consecutive no-hitters in June, 1938.
“He was effectively wild,” Alomar said. “A lot of guys came in saying the ball has some ride on it like a cutter. He walked three guys, gave up a run and then he got out of the (first) inning on two pitches. So, we helped him out a little bit.”
Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton elected not to send Keller back out for the sixth inning after 98 pitches, turning things over to Nik Turley, who retired the Indians in order.
DeShields broke up Pittsburgh’s no-hit bid in the seventh when he pushed a bunt to the right of the mound between Pirates reliever Sam Howard and first baseman Colin Moran. Sandy Leon, who had drawn a one-out walk, moved to second and eventually advanced to third on a fly ball to right by Francisco Lindor. But Leon was stranded there when Howard fought back from a three-ball count to strike out Hernandez.
DeShields said he was surprised the Pirates weren’t aligned defensively to protect against the bunt with the lefty Howard on the mound.
“If he throws anything over the plate, that’s an easy hit for me,” DeShields said. “I wasn’t even aware I broke up the no-hitter until I got on base. I was just trying to do my job, get the guy in scoring position and give us a chance to tie the game up with Frankie right there.”
Cleveland left seven runners on base and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. The Indians loaded the bases in the third inning on walks to Lindor, Santana and Franmil Reyes, but Keller escaped damage when Tyler Naquin lined a ball into Moran’s glove at first to end the inning.
Pittsburgh added a run in the eighth on a one-out RBI single by rookie third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. Hayes, who entered the game having hit safely in 17 of his first 21 major league games, drove in Frazier, who had doubled against Indians lefty Oliver Perez.
Next: The series continues Saturday as the Indians send right-hander Aaron Civale (4-5, 3.99 ERA) to the mound against Pittsburgh righty Joe Musgraove (0-5, 4.68). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. at Progressive Field. The game will air on SportsTime Ohio, WTAM 1100 AM and WMMS 100.7 FM.
New Indians face masks for sale: Here’s where you can buy Cleveland Indians-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection, including a single mask ($14.99) and a 3-pack ($24.99). All MLB proceeds donated to charity.
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