CLEVELAND -- As the celebration consumed the Indians' clubhouse on Saturday, a trio of veterans converged off to the side, each with a bottle of champagne in hand. Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis then formed a circle, embraced and savored the moment.Maybe this American League Central title --
CLEVELAND -- As the celebration consumed the Indians' clubhouse on Saturday, a trio of veterans converged off to the side, each with a bottle of champagne in hand. Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis then formed a circle, embraced and savored the moment.
Maybe this American League Central title -- one clinched with an overwhelming 15-0 victory over the Tigers at Progressive Field -- felt like a foregone conclusion for this club. That did not make the journey to Saturday's cork-popping party any less enjoyable, especially for the players who have gone from prospects to core pieces to veterans throughout the years of sustained success.
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"You can't ever take it for granted," said pitcher Josh Tomlin, who has been in the Indians' organization longer than any player in the room. "A lot of people play this game and don't ever get to go to the playoffs."
For the Indians, it's their third consecutive AL Central title and 10th -- the most of any team in the division -- since the current alignment was formed in 1994. Under manager Terry Francona, who took the helm in 2013, the Tribe has piled up an AL-leading 537 wins, while making the playoffs four times in that span.
Each trip to the postseason, however, has ended in heartbreak. That makes what took place on Saturday afternoon step one within the big-picture goal for this club, which is rich on talent, but has fought through plenty of adversity this season.
That objective, of course, is to bring the city of Cleveland its first World Series championship since 1948.
"We've earned our right to play into October, which is not to be taken lightly," said Cody Allen, who became the franchise's all-time saves leader this season. "But, we want to play a lot of baseball."
That sentiment was best summed up by Indians starter Mike Clevinger, who held the Tigers to one hit over six shutout innings in Saturday's romp. When his outing was over, Clevinger shook Francona's hand, headed up the ramp behind the dugout and walked into a clubhouse that was being covered from ceiling to floor in plastic in preparation for the party.
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The scene was actually disconcerting for Clevinger, who remembers walking to the same room in the later innings in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series against the Cubs. The clubhouse staffers were hanging the plastic sheets in the event the Indians won the Fall Classic that night. No Cleveland fan needs to be told how that story ended.
"I got sick to my stomach," Clevinger said. "The last time I saw them doing that here, we ended up losing that Game 7 and being sent home. That's why I was like, 'Oh my God.' We were preparing to win the World Series and then that had to get ripped down, and we all had to leave in tears and silence."
Clevinger added that bitter memories like that one -- combined with last year's early exit in the AL Division Series against the Yankees -- only serve as fuel for the current group. The Indians had a 3-1 lead in the World Series in '16 and did not finish the job. A year ago, the Tribe won 102 games and set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak, but could not stave off the Yankees after taking a 2-0 lead in the ALDS.
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All season long, as the Indians inched closer and closer to this clinch, those moments lingered in the background.
"Anything we've been through," Francona said, "you're supposed to learn from it and use it to your advantage. That's the whole idea. If you're young and you haven't been through it, OK, you take the enthusiasm. If you've been through it, you know what's expected and what's going to happen. It'll be a whole new [experience this time]. Everybody starts clean again."
Cleveland's potential was on full display in the division-clinching victory.
AL MVP Award candidates Francisco Lindor (leadoff home run) and Jose Ramirez (homer shy of the cycle) helped fuel the offense. Clevinger showed the strength of the rotation. Everything else in-between provided the best-case look at why the Tribe has the ability to make noise in the postseason.
"It feels good to celebrate," Lindor said, "give that little teaser to all the guys, like, 'This is what could happen if you continue to win.' Now, we have to continue to compete day in and day out."
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During the party, Trevor Bauer -- GoPro camera fixed to his hat, with ski goggles beneath the brim -- made his way around the room, showering teammates and anyone else in his path in beer. Former Indians great Carlos Baerga strolled in the room and snapped a photo with Ramirez. Allen spread the word that there were cigars to pass out, and smoke soon hovered beneath the champagne-soaked ceiling tiles.
When Indians chairman and CEO Paul Dolan walked in the room, there was a collective cry from the players, who soon swarmed around him, shaking bottles of bubbly and emptying the contents on the executive. President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff and other front-office members did not leave the room dry, either.
"The accomplishment of winning a division is not something we take for granted," Antonetti said. "Winning in Major League Baseball is hard and to sustain success is even harder, so the fact that this group of guys has been able to win three consecutive Central division championships is a testament to their work, their mindset and the leadership of Tito and the coaching staff."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Leading the way: Lindor sparked the Indians' six-run first inning by belting an 0-1 fastball from Michael Fulmer for a leadoff homer. That marked the eighth leadoff shot of the season for the Tribe's shortstop to set a club record. Grady Sizemore held the previous mark with seven in 2008. Following Lindor's blast, Brantley also homered against Fulmer, who then exited due to right knee inflammation. More >
Exclusive company: Ramirez took care of two milestones in the second inning. He reached 100 RBIs with a run-scoring double and then 100 runs when he came home on a single by Edwin Encarnacion. This marks only the 35th time (25 players) in recorded MLB history that a player has achieved at least 30 homers, 30 steals, 100 RBIs and 100 runs in a season. Ramirez is the first to achieve the feat since 2012 (Ryan Braun).
EDWIN EXITS EARLY
After delivering an RBI single in the fourth inning, Encarnacion rolled his right ankle on second base while running on a hit by Yonder Alonso. With the Indians holding a 15-0 lead at the time, the veteran designated hitter exited as a precaution with what the team called a mild ankle sprain. Encarnacion went 2-for-3 with a walk, two RBIs and three runs in the rout. Francona indicated the slugger was fine and Encarnacion certainly looked it as he participated in the postgame clinching party. More >
Lindor's homer gave him 120 runs scored on the season. He is only the eighth player in MLB history to have at least 20 steals, 35 homers, 40 doubles and 120 runs in one year. The others include Alfonso Soriano (2002), Shawn Green (1999), Barry Bonds (1998), Larry Walker (1997), Ellis Burks (1996), Rafael Palmeiro (1993) and Chuck Klein (1932).
Each member of the Indians' starting lineup notched at least one RBI against the Tigers, marking the first time the franchise achieved that feat since a 22-0 win over the Yankees on Aug. 31, 2004. This was the first time every player in the Tribe's lineup had at least one hit and one RBI since Oct. 2, 1990 (13-3 win over the Royals).
HE SAID IT
"It's really cool. It's something I'm really enjoying right now. I'm really trying to soak it in, because Tito's message was to soak it in. It doesn't happen for a lot of teams every year. To have it be three in a row and have these guys know what they're doing, take me under their wing, really teach me how this club operates is big. I'm really enjoying it right now." -- Rookie Shane Bieber
"I'm savoring every moment of this. This never gets old to me. This is a lot of hard work that this group has put in to get to this point. It's all well-deserved, well-earned, and I'm glad to be a part of it." -- Brantley, who missed much of the previous two years with injuries
Bieber (10-3, 4.32 ERA) will start at 1:10 p.m. ET on Sunday as the Tribe wraps up the season series against the Tigers at Progressive Field. Bieber, who logged a career-high 11 K's last time out, spun seven shutout innings against Detroit on June 22. The Tigers will counter with lefty Francisco Liriano (4-10, 4.65 ERA) in the rubber game.
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 Facebook.