CLEVELAND (AP)—A pitcher who was supposed to start the season in the minors has helped put the Indians on the verge of their first division title since 2001.
It’s been that kind of year for Cleveland.
Fausto Carmona won his 18th game and Ryan Garko and Jhonny Peralta hit back-to-back homers as Cleveland beat the Oakland Athletics 4-3 on Friday night to lower its magic number for clinching the AL Central to two.
Coupled with Detroit’s 5-4 win over Kansas City, the Indians remained 7 1/2 games ahead in the division. The Indians have nine games left, the Tigers only eight, and have a chance to clinch it Saturday night.
“It’s real exciting,” Garko said. “The best part is we’ve been able to stop watching the scoreboard.”
Cleveland has won four straight, is 6-1 on its final homestand and 21-5 since Aug. 25. The Indians improved to 91-62, a half game ahead of the Los Angeles Angels, who lost 6-0 to the Seattle Mariners.
Carmona (18-8) has won his last four starts, allowing a total of four earned runs during the streak for a 1.27 ERA.
Garko hit his 20th home run to the bleachers in left field to lead off the sixth inning. Before the sellout crowd could sit back down, Peralta hit the next pitch over the right-field wall for his 21st.
Joe Borowski pitched the ninth for his league-leading 43rd save in 49 chances.
Carmona gave up a run and five hits with four walks in six innings, striking out seven. He leads the AL with a 3.03 ERA.
“It wasn’t his best game, but he gave them a chance to win,” said first base coach Luis Rivera, who interpreted for Carmona. “He’s pleased guys scored runs for him so he could get the W.”
Carmona did the rest.
Now, Cleveland has two candidates for the Cy Young Award.
The Indians are the only team in the majors with two 18-game winners, with Carmona tying teammate C.C. Sabathia.
“He’s had a very consistent year for us,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s been right there with C.C. all year.”
The last teammates to win at least 18 games were Roger Clemens (18) and Roy Oswalt (20) with Houston in 2004. The last Indians teammates to do so were Bob Lemon, Herb Score and Early Wynn, who all won 20 in 1956.
Carmona has been part of an influx of young players—along with Cabrera, Garko and Franklin Gutierrez—who have taken the Indians from fourth place last season to the top of the division.
“I was so happy I could pick him up tonight. He deserved the win,” said Garko, still wearing a bit of chocolate on his ear and neck after taking a pie in the face, a tradition after home wins.
Joe Blanton (14-10) had won his last three starts and six of his last seven decisions, his last loss coming Aug. 25. He matched Carmona until the sixth when he gave up four straight hits to start the inning, including the pair of homers.
“The first one was bad location,” Blanton said. “The second one, he did a nice job of hitting. He went the other way. It wasn’t like I threw it down the middle and he yanked it.”
He went 5 2-3 innings, allowing four runs and 10 hits with three walks.
The A’s have lost five straight and 17 of 26.
Carmona, 23, is the youngest Indians right-hander to win 18 games since Bob Feller did it each year from 1939-1941. … The loss assures that Oakland (74-81) will not have a record over .500 for the first time in eight seasons. The A’s last losing season was in 1998 (74-88). … With Garko’s home run, the Indians have five players with 20 or more home runs: Martinez (24), Travis Hafner (23), Grady Sizemore (23) and Peralta (21). … Cust’s homer off Perez ended a 15 2-3 innings scoreless streak by Cleveland’s bullpen over seven games.