CLEVELAND – The Houston Astros on Monday defeated the Cleveland Indians, 11-3, at Progressive Field, sweeping the best-of-five American League Division Series. The Astros, defending World Series champions, will play the winner of the Boston Red Sox–New York Yankees Division Series in the League Championship Series scheduled to begin Saturday.
Dallas Keuchel and three relievers limited the slumping Indians to seven hits while George Springer homered twice, Carlos Correa homered once and Marwin González delivered two late-inning, run-scoring hits.
World Series runners-up in 2016, the Indians were eliminated in the Division Series for the second consecutive season. They last won a World Series in 1948.
Starting in Game 1, the Astros appeared invulnerable. They won 103 regular-season games. Nobody pitched with them, not even in the National League, where the batting orders generally are a man short. And if it sounded like a couple home games might stem the rising seasonal angst in Cleveland, the Astros had already won 57 road games, by six more than any other team in baseball.
The Indians hit .100 over the first two games of the division series. That’s a very small sample size. But, then, you’re only allotted small samples in October, and so the Indians of 2016 American League pennant and 2017 first-round knockout and, by 2018, three-time AL Central champions, were in some trouble.
The greater hope, for the moment, was Mike Clevinger, the hard-throwing, red-gloved and jittery right-hander who’d won 13 games in the regular season. Monday’s game was his first postseason start after six relief appearances in the past two Octobers. Clevinger’s development brought the rotational depth that seemed to give the Indians a shot against the Astros, except he’d lost both starts to the Astros in the regular season and, in them, gave up 15 hits, seven walks and eight runs in 11 2/3 innings. He allowed a run and struck out nine over five innings Monday.
The Indians would need runs, then. Against Astros left-hander Keuchel, they scored once in the third inning. Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis opened the inning with consecutive singles. Francisco Lindor, who had 38 home runs and three sacrifices in the regular season, bunted the two ahead a base and Michael Brantley fought a down-and-in two-seamer into deep center field. Gomes scored.
On an unusually warm afternoon, with Indians fans wearing red and waving red towels, the lead kept until the fifth inning. The Indians’ bullpen stirred behind Clevinger, who’d endured a perilous, 28-pitch third inning, a clean fourth, and then hung a slider with one out in the fifth. George Springer hit it into the left-field bleachers. The home run was Springer’s second of the series (he got Corey Kluber in the fifth inning of Game 1). He homered again in the eighth inning against Cody Allen. His 10 career postseason home runs — five against the Los Angeles Dodgers when he was World Series MVP – are an Astros record.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Indians hit their second home run of the series. Both by Lindor. He hit a one-out, first-pitch fastball 447 feet to left field, like he’d been thinking about that very fastball for a week. And the crowd, which had been begging every fly ball for another 50 feet, found its lungs. The Indians led, 2-1. Were it to be the hit that launched the Indians to a series comeback, their fans would remember that it arrived at 3:33 p.m. ET, as that was the reading on the digital clock Lindor’s ball struck. Given the carry on the home run, it’s possible Lindor made contact at 3:32.
The Indians followed five innings of Clevinger with Trevor Bauer. In the seventh, the Astros tied the score – 2-2 — with a Tony Kemp single, a Bauer throwing error, a Springer infield single and a Jose Altuve fielder’s choice. The inning continued on Bauer’s watch and would not end until Bauer had committed a second throwing error, this on a potential inning-ending double play that set up the two-run double by Marwin González.
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