CLEVELAND -- The Indians entered Wednesday’s game against the Tigers with the possibility of moving into the second American League Wild Card spot if they won and the Rays lost to the Dodgers. But no matter how much pressure has been put on rookie Aaron Civale this season, the 24-year-old has yet to crack.
Civale allowed one run over a career-high 7 2/3 innings to help lead the Indians to a 2-1 victory over the Tigers at Progressive Field, walking off with the win in the 10th inning on Yasiel Puig's RBI single. The victory extended the Tribe’s win streak against Detroit to 16 games. The club is one win away from tying its longest win streak against any team, having won 17 in a row against the Orioles in 1954.
However, the Rays defeated the Dodgers in 11 innings to keep the Indians a half-game back.
“I thought [Civale] was terrific,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We’re trying to keep him around 90-ish [pitches]. For him to get to the eighth inning -- he really did a good job. It seemed like he ran some deep counts, but he doesn’t have to throw a fastball in a fastball count. For a kid with this much experience, that’s pretty impressive.”
Civale has not allowed more than two earned runs in each of his first nine career starts, which is the longest such streak by an Indians player since earned runs became an official stat.
“Just trusting my stuff,” Civale said of what’s led to his success at the Major League level. “Trusting my strength and not shying away from what I know that I do best.”
No matter how dominant the right-hander has been on the mound in his limited time in the big leagues, the Tribe’s offense always seems to struggle on Civale’s start days. In six of his nine starts, the Indians have scored three runs or fewer. On Wednesday, the team mustered one run on a Carlos Santana RBI single in the third before Puig watched his teammates chase after him between first and second base following his walk-off single in the 10th as part of his four-hit night. It was the 28-year-old’s fifth career walk-off plate appearance.
“Feeling good. This is my first walk-off with this team,” Puig said. “... The inning before, I told [Francisco] Lindor and a couple of players, ‘Hey, I’m going to finish this one with a home run,’ but the ball wasn’t traveling far and I hit it behind the [right] fielder for a single. [Lindor] told me, ‘Hey, you told me you were going to hit a home run and finish this game.’ In that situation, I wanted that hit and God gave me another opportunity with more people on base, and this time I got the single and won the game.”
What Civale lacked in run support was made up for with an enormous defensive assist. With two outs and Christin Stewart on second in the top of fourth, Brandon Dixon singled to Greg Allen in left field. As Stewart rounded third, Allen fielded the ball and fired a missile to the plate, where Roberto Pérez made the grab and tagged out Stewart to keep the game tied at 1. Allen’s throw clocked in at 100.8 mph, the fastest outfield assist in MLB this season.
“You know what, sometimes you just surprise yourself, whether it’s how hard you hit a ball or make a throw like that,” Allen said. “It’s funny, one of the guys was coming up after the inning, they asked me jokingly how hard I thought I threw that ball and I’m just like, ‘I don’t know, maybe 88-90 [mph]?’ Like, no. I had a chance to see the Statcast on it. That was pretty neat, for sure. We’ll see how many bullets I got left in the arm.”
For a brief moment, the Tribe moved into a tie with the Rays for the second AL Wild Card position, but Tampa Bay eventually pulled out a win in Los Angeles. As tempting as it has become to watch the scoreboards across the league from the clubhouse, the Indians know they can only control their own outcomes.
“We’re very fortunate and blessed to be able to be where we are, in this position, playing for something meaningful,” Allen said. “We’re getting down to the last week and a half or so, and the fact that we’re still in the thick of it, knowing each game, each run, each inning matters, it’s fun. It’s fun to be around. It’s fun to be able to come in and compete next to these guys. I think it’s going to be one wild ride.”