CLEVELAND -- “[We] took a leap of faith there, and it paid off.”
The Indians knew they had two outcomes as Oscar Mercado rounded third base in the bottom of the eighth: watch Mercado get thrown out at the plate to end the inning, or take the lead if the umpiring crew called interference on Red Sox second baseman Yairo Muñoz. As Mercado described it, the club took a leap of faith and hoped for the latter -- a decision that resulted in a 7-5 Cleveland victory over Boston on Sunday at Progressive Field.
“Honestly, I didn’t see everything happen,” said Indians backstop Austin Hedges. “I was just seeing that [third-base coach Kyle Hudson] was sending him and there was probably going to be a play at the plate, and then I saw the interference. It was just weird. We were just pumped. Obviously it was nice to tie the game, but we didn’t need to play another extra-inning game.”
The Indians were on the verge of being swept by the Red Sox and wanted to prove that they still had fight left in them. Cleveland had been held hitless for the first 5 1/3 frames before slowly chipping away at Boston’s lead. It wasn’t until Hedges, who entered the game to replace an injured Wilson Ramos, launched a two-out solo homer in the eighth to knot the score at 5.
Mercado followed the homer with a single and was not going to let the momentum stop there. With the game tied, Yu Chang smacked a double to left field, and Mercado had his sights set on scoring the go-ahead run. But then, some obstacles got in his way.
As Mercado rounded second, Muñoz was in the basepath. Mercado did his best impersonation of an NFL defensive end, shoving whatever was in his way to get to an opposing quarterback. The quarterback in this situation was home plate.
Mercado didn’t miss a beat, pushing Muñoz out of the way as he continued his quest to put the Indians on top after a long three-hour, 10-minute rain delay pushed an afternoon contest into the evening. However, it slowed Mercado down, and the umpires recognized that.
“As I was rounding second, their infielder was in the way,” Mercado said. “Kind of pushed him out of the way so I could keep my momentum going. I took a peek at Schwarber to see where he was at and if he had fielded the ball yet. As I’m doing that, their pitcher is standing pretty much right on third base, so I had to slow down a bit on that, too.”
The call was on Muñoz, but even if it wasn’t, the Indians had a strong argument against Boston hurler Austin Davis, who was planted on third base as Mercado rounded the bag. His sprint speed logged in at 27.5 feet per second from first to third, which is much slower than his usual 28.9 feet per second average, showing he did have to take his foot off the pedal at times to navigate the interference.
“Mercado at full speed plays a part, too,” Indians acting manager DeMarlo Hale said, “because the umpires can't say, 'Well, he slowed down,' and now it's their judgment if he's going to be able to make it. But the one was between second and third where there was big contact and really slowed him down, impeded him a little bit. But he kept going. That's a great job baserunning by him as well.”
It was Hudson who took the biggest leap of faith. The fill-in third-base coach has only been in that position since manager Terry Francona stepped away from the team to address health issues at the end of July. But when it came down to making a split-second decision, Hudson knew that the Indians would take the lead even if the throw beat Mercado to the plate.
“That was a huge play, and Huddy was right on target with it in terms of timing,” Hale said. “These are the things that come up and you can't script as a third-base coach. Your instincts have to take over, and he was right on top of it. Probably him being a former good baserunner, that situation probably came up with him running at some point. Just a great instinct [and] effort. Like I said, he's getting comfortable out there, and he's doing a great job.”