KANSAS CITY -- Jason Kipnis sat in a chair, still wearing his dirt-caked baseball pants, watching the Tigers' game on his phone. With no room left on the couches in the visitors' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, Jose Ramirez sat on a coffee table, surrounded by his teammates, monitoring the Red
KANSAS CITY -- Jason Kipnis sat in a chair, still wearing his dirt-caked baseball pants, watching the Tigers' game on his phone. With no room left on the couches in the visitors' clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, Jose Ramirez sat on a coffee table, surrounded by his teammates, monitoring the Red Sox game on one of the televisions.
The players reacted to every pitch -- groans at close pitches called balls, and cheers for anything that went against Detroit or Boston -- waiting anxiously to learn which city would be on the team plane's itinerary. Finally, given their 3-2 win over the Royals on Sunday, and subsequent losses by the Tigers and Red Sox, the players erupted in a series of shouts and high fives after knowing for certain that they are heading home with home-field advantage in the American League Division Series against Boston that begins Thursday.
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"That's exactly what we wanted," Kipnis said amidst the cheers and blasting music. "It looked like we could have a perfect day. We were joking about it, saying it was going to be a perfect day today. It turned out to be that way. It's awesome."
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When Jackie Bradley Jr. grounded out to end the game for the Red Sox, who lost to the Blue Jays on Sunday, Skylar Grey's song, "I'm Coming Home," began blaring through the clubhouse speakers. That elicited laughter from Cleveland's players, whose next stop will be Progressive Field for Game 1 on Thursday.
Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer will face Red Sox righty Rick Porcello on Thursday, followed by a pair of former Cy Young Award winners, Boston's David Price and Cleveland's Corey Kluber, in Game 2 on Friday. The fact that the series will open in Cleveland is a bonus for the Tribe, which went 53-28 at Progressive Field, marking the team's most wins at home since 1995.
Boston won the season series between the two teams, 4-2, with the Sox taking two of three in both parks. The teams split the first two games of the season in Cleveland, with one rainout that was made up on Aug. 15, the last time the two teams met. Boston took two of three from the Indians at Fenway in May.
The series of events on Sunday eliminated what could have been a hectic 48 hours for Cleveland. Thanks to Boston's loss, and Detroit's defeat to the Braves, Monday's makeup game against the Tigers was rendered unneccessary. The Red Sox (93-69) owned the tiebreaker over the Indians (94-67), but Cleveland ended 1 1/2 games better than Boston in the standings.
Cleveland swept Kansas City this weekend to make that scenario possible.
"You get to the last weekend of the year," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "and sometimes you see teams sort of taper off. I was really proud of our guys. They keep playing. Nobody asked for a day off. All the pitchers wanted to pitch. And I think that'll help us moving forward."
Kipnis said coasting to the finish was not an option.
"We're not one of those teams," said the second baseman. "We want to feel good going into the postseason. Plus, we knew there was a possibility we could still clinch home-field. The only way we could do that was go about our business and worry about what we could control, and that was winning our games."
Right-hander Josh Tomlin, who logged 7 1/3 strong innings in the regular-season finale, projects to be Cleveland's Game 3 starter on Oct. 9 at Fenway Park.
After a troubling August -- a month in which Tomlin temporarily lost his job in the rotation -- the pitcher responded with a 1.69 ERA over the final month. With injured starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar out of the mix for the playoff rotation, Tomlin's comeback has been an encouraging development for the Tribe.
"He did amazing," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. "This should be an incredible confidence booster for him, and for us, going into the playoffs."
Tomlin smiled when asked about facing the Red Sox in October.
"I think it's really cool," Tomlin said. "It's going to be pretty special for some of the guys in here who have never played a playoff game, and one of your first playoff games will be in Fenway Park. I think it's pretty cool. That's one of the historic ballparks and one of the better road stadiums to play at, just because of the history there."
The Red Sox and Indians enter their ALDS pairing ranked first and second, respectively, in the AL in runs scored. Both teams have Cy Young contenders in Porcello and Kluber. The Tribe boasts the best baserunning group in the league, both teams feature a strong defense, and they are neck and neck in terms of pitching statistics across the board.
Francona managed Boston to World Series titles in '04 and '07, and will now be up against one of his best friends, Red Sox manager John Farrell.
There will be no shortage of storylines as the Indians and Red Sox ALDS unfolds.
"[We're] pretty similar, actually," Kipnis said. "It's going to be a fun matchup. I know we've been looking forward to it. I know a lot of guys are going to be the underdogs in our own ballpark now. ... All we can do is use that as an advantage for us. We just want to say, 'Be careful what you wish for.'"
The Indians got their wish of starting the ALDS home.
"It's awesome," Kipnis said. "It's better for guys who are going through their first postseason games to have the crowd cheering for you than against you. That's the best part about it."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.