'Aggressive' Jones, Tigers postpone Indians' division-clinching party
Cleveland — The Indians had the champagne on ice somewhere in the back of their clubhouse at Progressive Field.
If they beat the Tigers Friday night, and the Twins lost in Kansas City, the Indians could celebrate their third straight American League Central Division title.
The Tigers didn’t get the memo.
"That's what we're here to do," said JaCoby Jones, whose mad dash in the eighth inning wound up providing the winning run in the Tigers' 5-4 victory. "Just try to put people out of the playoffs. Obviously we know we can't make the playoffs, so, just keep playing hard and the teams that are in the running for the playoffs, we want to keep them out.
"That's our excitement for the rest of the year."
It didn't seem like a big deal at the time. Jones, who doubled in a run in the fourth inning, beat out an infield single and stole second with one out in the eighth. Indians reliever Neil Ramirez struck out Dawel Lugo, but the ball got past catcher Yan Gomes.
"I was going 100 percent as soon as it got past the catcher," Jones said. "I knew there was one out and I knew the catcher was going to throw to first to complete the strikeout and get the second out.
"As soon as it went by him, I was going full speed, no matter what."
Jones never stopped running and slid around the tag attempt by Ramirez at home plate.
"We all know how exciting a player he is," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You have to have courage to be able to do that and you have to have good instincts. He's got those. We've told him all along, 'Hey, we're not going to yell at you for aggressive base running.'
"That was aggressive. It was a hell of a play. It pumped everybody up in the dugout."
At that point, though, it was just an add-on run. It put the Tigers up 5-2, which was the score when the Indians came to bat in the bottom of the ninth against closer Shane Greene.
Single by Josh Donaldson. Single by Yonder Alonso. Sacrifice fly by Melky Cabrera. Single by Gomes.
It was 5-3, runners on the corners and one out.
"If we had turned a double play, it wouldn't have been that bad," Gardenhire said.
Jason Kipnis hit a ground ball to first baseman Ronny Rodriguez. But instead of starting a game-ending double play, Rodriguez bobbled the ball and settled for the out at first. The fourth run scored on the play and speedy former Tiger Rajai Davis, who ran for Gomes, was representing the tying run at second base.
That brought the dangerous Francisco Lindor to the plate, with left-handed hitting Michael Brantley on deck.
"With Lindor, if you put him on first, it's like putting anybody else on second base," Gardenhire said. "He could score (from first) on a long single. We weren't going to let that happen.
"Or you go to Brantley who is known for getting big hits at the end of games. We just let our closer do his job. He's makes that decision. If he doesn't want to pitch to Lindor, he can walk him on his own. But I'm not making that decision. I learned a long time ago, you let the closer handle it himself."
Greene did just that. He got Lindor to fly out to right, earning his 29th save.
"We haven't had a good time in this ballpark, not many teams have," Gardenhire said. "But we were able to get ahead and hang on, which is what you have to do in this ballpark."
The win ended a 10-game losing streak at Progressive Field for the Tigers, dating back to last season. And the Tigers were very conscious of the Indians' magic number to clinch the division, which was at two entering the night.
They would like to postpone their party until they leave town.
"That would be nice," said Tigers starter Matthew Boyd, who pitched five one-hit innings before giving up back-to-back home runs to Edwin Encarnacion and Donaldson in the sixth. "Obviously the Twins could lose and they could still get it, but we'd like to hold up our end and win the series here."
Jeimer Candelario, who led off the game with his 19th home run of the year, broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning with a double, hitting the first pitch he saw from All-Star reliever Andrew Miller off the left-field wall.
Victor Martinez, playing his final series at Progressive Field, where his career began with the Indians back in 2002, Martinez lashed an RBI double to make it 4-2.
In 472 games before his two hits Friday, Martinez had hit .296/.377/.453 with an .830 OPS, with 51 home runs and 288 RBIs at Progressive.