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Mercado, Tribe slug their way into Wild Card tie

@MandyBell02
September 22, 2019

CLEVELAND -- When the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Francisco Lindor to get to Oscar Mercado late in Friday's victory, the 24-year-old rookie responded with an RBI single and a simple message afterwards: “You can be afraid of me, too.” Two days later, he was still driving home his point.

CLEVELAND -- When the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Francisco Lindor to get to Oscar Mercado late in Friday's victory, the 24-year-old rookie responded with an RBI single and a simple message afterwards: “You can be afraid of me, too.”

Two days later, he was still driving home his point. With the game tied in the bottom of the fifth, Mercado launched a go-ahead three-run homer that helped propel the Indians to a 10-1 victory over the Phillies on Sunday night in the Tribe’s final regular season game at Progressive Field. The win moved Cleveland back into a tie with Tampa Bay for the final American League Wild Card spot.

Box score

“We know if we play our game, if we take care of business, we'll be all right,” Mercado said. “That was the case. We pitched a heck of a game. [Adam] Plutko did a great job. [Carlos Carrasco] was amazing. Same with the rest of our bullpen. We put together two good innings and that was the difference.”

The Indians knew what was on the line. With Cleveland playing the late game on Sunday, the Rays had already lost, 7-4, to the Red Sox earlier in the day, and with just seven games remaining -- including Sunday’s series finale -- the Tribe could not afford a loss. The Phillies got on the board first in the third inning, but the Indians tied it in the fourth on a Mike Freeman RBI groundout. Then, one of Cleveland’s hottest hitters stepped to the plate.

“We’re kind of at the point of the year where we better win, regardless,” manager Terry Francona said. “I’d be lying if I said I was rooting for them to win, but we better win every game we can.”

Both Greg Allen and Roberto Perez reached safely on fielding errors to start the frame, putting two runners in scoring position for Mercado. On an 0-2 count, the hot-hitting rookie launched a three-run bomb into the left-field bleachers. Mercado dropped his bat and immediately began throwing his hands above his head, hyping up the crowd as he trotted toward first base.

“I love it,” Lindor said. “He’s going to be one of the faces of the franchise, if he’s not already one. I’m happy for him.”

At a time when every game is seemingly a must-win for a Cleveland team that entered Sunday with a 29 percent chance of making the postseason, according to Fangraphs, Mercado has more than pulled his weight. He’s hit .357 with 11 extra-base hits -- including four homers -- and 15 RBIs over his last 17 games, while posting a 1.053 OPS.

“I think that’s what’s made it so much fun, this journey, is guys like him, that haven’t been through it before yet, are making huge contributions to what we’re doing,” Francona said. “That makes it more fun, more fulfilling.”

From there, an offense that was held hitless the rest of the way following Kevin Plawecki’s single in the fourth inning on Saturday suddenly became uncorked. The Tribe put up six runs in the seventh on a Lindor single, a three-run double by Yasiel Puig and a two-run homer from Franmil Reyes to help move the club into a share of the final Wild Card spot with six games remaining.

“They're going to be a blast. Exciting,” Mercado said. “There are lot of words I could use to describe the games, but most importantly, each game is going to be the biggest game of the year. We've got to take it that way and lock it in and get ready to go.”

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.