The way they’ve played on this win-or-go-home trip, it may have ended well before they left Cleveland on Monday evening.
After being embarrassed in a three-game series by the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, the Indians (93-67) were eliminated from the American League Wild Card Game race by the playoff-bound Nationals on Friday night, 8-2, at Nationals Park.
The Indians were eliminated from the AL Central race in Tuesday’s 8-3 loss to the White Sox. They faced the same fate entering Friday night’s game for a wild card spot if they lost and Tampa Bay beat Toronto. Both scenarios came to be as the red-hot Rays beat Toronto, 6-2, to clinch a spot in Wednesday’s one-game playoff.
When Nick Goody (3-2) relieved rookie right-hander Zach Plesac to start the sixth, the score was tied, 2-2. But the Nationals ripped Goody for four runs as manager Terry Francona let him face six batters before summoning help. Gerardo Parra’s sacrifice fly broke the tie before Asdrubal Cabrera delivered the biggest hit of the night against his former team with a two-run double to right for a 5-2 lead.
Adam Cimber relieved and things went from bad to worse. Trea Turner, Washington’s leadoff hitter, drove a two-run homer into the left field seats for a 7-2 lead.
This season has been a struggle for the Indians. It seems as if they’ve been running uphill since Opening Day. They suffered key injuries to the starting rotation and All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis opened the year on the disabled list. Then Carlos Carrasco, another starter, was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia.
They trailed the Twins by 11.5 games on June 3, but went on a 43-11 run to not only catch the Twins, but pass them. On Aug. 12, they moved into first place in the AL Central, the division they ruled for the last three years, by a half-game. But that one-day stay on top of the division was as good as it would get.
“At some point I’m going to have to talk to the team,” said Francona, who met with reporters after the Tribe’s loss, but before the Rays finished their win over Toronto. "It’s the one time I never prepare (for) because I always figure we’ll figure it out.
“And it’s the hardest one because it hurts so much because it hurts when you don’t get where you want to go,” he added. “Yet there is still so much that I’m proud of and they need to hear that. But that’s the one meeting I never prepare for because I believe in my heart it will never get here."
It’s not that the Indians went into the tank after they reached first place as much as the Twins regained their footing to win the division for the first time since 2010.
Asked if the Indians burnt themselves out trying to catch the Twins, rookie center fielder Oscar Mercado said, "I don’t think so. I think we fought a lot of adversity throughout the year. We did the best we could. Sometimes you have to accept that and move on.
“The goal here is to win and be in the playoffs. We just have to accept it and realize we did the best we could and be able to sleep at night knowing that.”
The Indians were outscored, 24-5, in the last three games. The top five hitters in their lineup went 2-for-57 in those games.
“It’s been a tough three days for some guys,” Francona said. “You win and lose as a group and I’ll always feel that way. We leaned on those guys heavy and I think they’re probably dragging. . .they’re about out of gas.”
The Nationals took a 2-0 lead in the second on Parra’s two-run double. It stung because it came with two out. Howie Kendrick opened the door with one out single. Plesac struck out Matt Adams, but Kurt Suzuki singled to left as Kendrick stopped at second. Parra, who entered the game hitting .370 (10-for-27) with two out and runners in scoring position, padded those stats with a double to right.
The inning could have been worse for the Indians as Washington starter Austin Voth (2-1, 3.30) sent a drive to deep center that Oscar Mercado ran down for the final out.
The Indians, showing some fight for the first time in three days, tied the score in the third. Greg Allen, who reached on a single off Kendrick’s glove at second, scored on Ryan Flaherty’s double. Plesac bunted Flaherty to third and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Francisco Lindor, who had one in his first 15 at-bats on this trip.
Plesac ended his impressive season by allowing two runs on six hits in five innings. He struck out six and walked one. Voth allowed two runs on two hits in six innings. He finished the year at 8-6 with a 3.81.
“Considering the circumstances and the magnitude of the game, I thought he showed terrific poise,” Francona said. “Then inning he gave up two runs, shoot, he had two out and an 0-2 count and left a breaking ball up to Suzuki ... but he’s got a ton of competitiveness and poise.”
Right-hander Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.25) will make his 20th start for the Indians on Saturday afternoon against the Nationals. Left-hander Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.05) will start or the Nationals. Game time is 4:05 p.m. with FS1 and SportsTime Ohio televising the game. WLKR 95.3 FM will have the radio broadcast.
Plutko will be making his second straight interleague start. He allowed one run on four hits in 4 1/3 innings Sunday in a no-decision against the Phillies. The Indians won the game, 10-1.
Corbin is 4-1 in his last five starts. He’s ranked fourth in the NL with 230 strikeouts and fifth with 197 2/3 innings pitched. He is 1-0 in his career against the Indians, throwing six scoreless innings.