Cleveland Indians: Reflections on the final home series

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 22: Carlos Carrasco #59 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against J.T. Realmuto #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies in the fifth inning at Progressive Field on September 22, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 22: Carlos Carrasco #59 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against J.T. Realmuto #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies in the fifth inning at Progressive Field on September 22, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Indians roared to a 2-1 series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in their final appearance at Progressive Field this regular season.

The 2019 Cleveland Indians have officially won more games than the 2018 iteration. After taking two of three from the Philadelphia Phillies in their final home series of the regular season, the Indians have put themselves in position to eclipse even the 2016 club’s win total.

Imagine that.

There were portions of this Interleague weekender that felt comparable to being kicked in the shin over and over again with a steel-toed boot, particularly the final seven innings of Saturday’s 9-4 defeat.

As for the other 20 innings, there was an undeniable hint of magic in the air. Shane Bieber’s 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball set the tone on Friday night, and were rewarded with a well-deserved standing ovation as he walked off the mound in the eighth.

The fans who rose to their feet to applaud his performance were not just tipping their hats to him for shutting down the Phillies. They were thanking him for what he’s done for the team all season long. It was a moving moment.

Speaking of “moments,” it’s hard to imagine Progressive Field has been louder in 2019 than during Carlos Carrasco’s four-out save on Friday. Carrasco entered the game with two outs in the eighth inning to face Rhys Hoskins with a runner on second.

In what has got to be the worst-umpired plate appearance of the Indians’ season, Carrasco walked Hoskins despite throwing two “balls” directly down the middle of the plate. It was precisely the type of tough-luck scale-tipper we’ve seen unfurl into unmitigated disaster several times before, and it brought power-hitting lefty Jay Bruce to the plate as the tying run.

Unfazed, Carrasco would induce a ground ball to Francisco Lindor to end the inning before returning to the dugout, where he would be left alone–an indication the ninth inning was his.

Carrasco retired the Phillies in order in the top of the ninth, bringing about an eruption from the Progressive Field crowd. It was a game the Indians absolutely had to win, and the number of surefire bullpen arms for Terry Francona to turn to has dwindled in recent weeks. So he turned to Carrasco, the Tribe’s most inspirational story, and the righty answered the bell in a 5-2 win.

Of course, it wasn’t without a bit of timely hitting that the Indians were in position to win the game to begin with. Oscar Mercado, who has been as electric as any hitter in the league this month, kicked things off with an RBI double in the first inning.

He would later drive in Cleveland’s fifth run in the seventh with a two-out single, providing Bieber and the bullpen with a much-needed cushion heading into the final frames. Mercado’s base hit came after the Phillies elected to walk Lindor to get to him, making it all the more fitting that the rookie came through.

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Sunday’s 10-1 victory was far less stressful, but it wasn’t without its own crucial and emotional moments. Once again, Carrasco provided arguably the most magical of them, getting J.T. Realmuto to ground into a double play in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game that looked like it might be bending in Philadelphia’s favor.

In the home half of that inning, Mercado again came through in the clutch, blasting a three-run no-doubter to left field with two strikes and two outs. It was Mercado’s second home run in as many nights, and it gave the Indians a 4-1 lead they would build upon in what turned out to be the perfect ending to their regular season in front of the home crowd.

The dagger in Sunday night’s triumph came on a bases-loaded double off the bat of Yasiel Puig that resulted in an electrifying uproar as Carlos Santana slid safely into home plate on the closest of plays.

While it’s been comforting in recent years to have had a stranglehold on the AL Central standings and a guaranteed position in the playoffs, there’s something to be said for these late-September battles that will make or break the Indians’ 2019 season.

It’s difficult to replicate the atmosphere of a must-win game when you have the division wrapped up in the middle of August, and if the Indians have any advantage over their potential October adversaries, it’s that they’ve essentially been playing playoff games for the last four months.

There was no struggling with the atmosphere in the Tribe’s final home series; no dull drone inside Progressive Field as the Indians played yet another meaningless game en route to a predetermined place at the table in October.

Backed by a loud and energetic home crowd, the Indians came through in the next-to-last weekend of the regular season. As it stands at the moment, the Indians have a long road in front of them if they want to play another home game in 2019–a path that could include as many as 10 straight away games in five different cities before it’s all said and done.

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But one can’t help but feel like this team left its fans with a resounding message in the home finale: Don’t turn the lights out at Progressive Field just yet, because we’re coming back.