CLEVELAND -- José Ramírez almost single-handedly allowed the Indians to have an opportunity to secure home-field advantage for the postseason after his scorching run heading into the weekend. But for the team to guarantee that the first round of the playoffs would take place at Progressive Field, it would need more offensive help than just one bat.
The Indians clawed their way back from a four-run deficit with a three-run homer by Reyes in the bottom of the sixth before Santana delivered the go-ahead, two-run double in the seventh to clinch home-field advantage for the American League Wild Card Series in an 8-6 victory over the Pirates on Sunday at Progressive Field.
The No. 4 Indians will host the No. 5 Yankees in the first round of the playoffs.
“It's big. We all recognize home-field [advantage],” Reyes said. “We all feel comfortable playing here, and this is our city. We feel proud to play in our stadium and give Cleveland what they deserve -- very good games and a championship.”
The Indians entered Sunday one game back of the White Sox for second place in the AL Central. But with the Sox 10-8 loss to the Cubs, Chicago and Cleveland ended with identical 35-25 records on the season. Because the Tribe went 8-2 against the White Sox this year, the Indians were rewarded the better seed.
"I think the story of our year has been resilience and adaptability and our guys, we went through a really tough stretch where we lost eight in a row,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “It would've been easy to continue to stumble for the balance of the season, but our guys did a really good job of coming together and finding ways to win games here down the stretch. I think that's, again, a testament to the resilience and adaptability to the team."
The Indians had to overcome their largest deficit of the season in their victory on Sunday, which is much better momentum to carry into the postseason than two consecutive losses to the Pirates. While the energy has been in Cleveland's favor for most of its past 10 games, the most encouraging takeaway from the regular-season finale was seeing Santana and Reyes get results at the plate.
Reyes had gone 100 plate appearances without a home run before his three-run blast in the sixth, hitting .192 with a .516 OPS in his previous 23 games before his four-RBI day against the Pirates.
“It's almost like saying getting the monkey off your back when Franmil hit that home run, because he had a long drought,” acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “I think he was a little bit pressing. … You see that guy, he runs the bases hard all the time, even though he's struggling, and he's a big guy. He brings a lot to the table, a lot of intangibles.”
And with Ramírez as hot as he’s been over the past few weeks, there’s no secret who the biggest threat in the Tribe’s lineup is -- which makes it more important for Santana, who hits behind Ramírez, to pick up some steam in the playoffs. Before Santana’s 3-for-3 game, he had hit .187 with a .654 OPS in the first 59 games of the season.
“I’m confident,” Santana said. “Sometimes I don’t feel 100 percent good, but I think the last game of the season, it helped me [before] the playoffs. I never have my head down. I keep working. … I live day to day, I play day to day, and right now I’m focused on the playoffs to help my team.”
Ramírez proved his hot streak has not come to an end, as he went 2-for-3 in his final push to demonstrate why he should receive AL Most Valuable Player Award consideration.
“I mean, he's a special player,” said Indians closer Brad Hand, who went a perfect 16-for-16 in save opportunities this year. “He really carried us through all four of those games against the White Sox [last week]. He's a dangerous hitter to get hot, but he's hot right now. Just trying to keep that going, keep the momentum going and carry it into the postseason."
“That's an MVP year, man,” Reyes said. “Like I told you guys before, José, for me, is one of the best players in the league. He deserves the MVP.”