Nick Swisher's home run helps Indians clinch wild-card berth
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MINNEAPOLIS - And Nick Swisher shall lead them.
The former Yankee hit a two-run home run two batters into the game Sunday as the Cleveland Indians clinched the American League's first wild-card berth with a 5-1 win over the Twins at Target Field.
With the victory, the Indians (92-70) avoided what could have been (for them) a dreaded two- or even three-team tie atop the wild-card standings. That could have had the Indians playing one or two more games just to get into the playoffs. Baseball and its TV partners would have loved it. The Indians are happy not to have obliged.
Instead, Cleveland will host Tampa Bay or Texas in Wednesday's wild-card game in its first postseason appearance since 2007. The Rays and Rangers are tied at 91-71 after 162 games; Tampa Bay will visit Texas on Monday night for a play-in game to determine the second wild card.
"In the offseason, everybody was asking, 'Why did you sign with Cleveland?' " Swisher said outside the Indians' beer- and champagne-soaked clubhouse. "This is why I signed with Cleveland!"
The Indians went 21-6 in September and won their final 10 games against the Astros, White Sox and Twins, three of the worst teams in baseball. They have been sensitive to the perception that they took advantage of an easy schedule to earn a playoff spot. "Your schedule's what your schedule is," manager Terry Francona said. "You always show up and play who you're supposed to."
Said Swisher: "No one was complaining about the schedule when we lost 94 games last year."
Swisher wasn't even with the Indians last year. He was completing a four-year stint with the Yankees that included productive regular seasons and unproductive postseasons. The Yankees did not offer him a long-term deal to stay. Now Swisher, who signed a four-year, $66-million deal with the Indians, is going to the playoffs again and the Yankees are going home.
Swisher homered off Scott Diamond (6-13) for a quick 2-0 lead. His 22nd homer of the season just made it over the glove of leftfielder Clete Thomas.
Cleveland increased its lead to 4-0 in the sixth with the help of two Twins errors (a third in the inning didn't lead to any runs). About that easy schedule . . .
Ubaldo Jimenez (13-9), the former Colorado righthander who has regained his ace form, allowed one run and five hits in 62/3 innings with one walk and 13 strikeouts. His last eight outs were via strikeout.
Francona manipulated his rotation weeks ago to have Jimenez available for the final game of the regular season if needed. Good call by the former Red Sox manager, who signed with Cleveland after a year off following an ugly exit from Boston after two World Series titles. The Indians will face the Red Sox in the ALDS if they win the wild-card game.
The Indians, who have had attendance problems this season, expect Wednesday's game to be a sellout. On Sunday, Cleveland put tickets on sale for a possible play-in game. But that no longer is necessary.
"I just hope we get to keep playing," Francona said. "We don't want to go home."