CLEVELAND -- The Indians had gone nearly 10 months since they last took the field in a regular-season game due to the coronavirus shutdown. With the extended break, it was easy to forget the highlight-reel plays that center fielder Oscar Mercado made in his rookie campaign last season. But on Tuesday, he was sure to give everyone a gentle reminder of what his glove is capable of.
The Tribe had a two-run lead in the top of the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first. Chicago’s Zack Collins laced a fly ball off Dominic Leone that appeared to be an easy double off the wall in left-center. But a lunging catch by Mercado as he crashed into the wall allowed the Indians to escape the inning en route to a 5-3 victory over the White Sox in the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader at Progressive Field. Cleveland completed a sweep of the twin bill after also winning the first game, 4-3.
“Oscar's play was, I mean, stating the obvious,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “but that's a game saver right there.”
According to Statcast, the ball Collins served to center had only a 40% catch probability, making Mercado’s play clock in as a four-star catch. He got a solid read on the ball off the bat, leapt into the wall as he made the catch and rolled to the ground. Leone stood in the infield with his arms raised above his head while left fielder Greg Allen flashed a huge smile and smacked Mercado’s glove in celebration.
“I felt like I got a good bead on it,” Mercado said. “One of those things where the ball’s carrying and Greg did a good job of letting me know where the wall was. As soon as I heard, ‘Wall, wall, wall,’ I knew my only option was to just jump. I jumped and put my glove up, and I'll be honest, I honestly did not think that I was going to be able to catch that when I went up. Like I wasn't all that confident, but thankfully the ball went in, so I’m happy.”
In 2019, he made six four-star catches. One of his most memorable plays was in a win over the White Sox on Sept. 4 at Progressive Field, as the Indians were in the thick of the American League Wild Card race. With the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, Mercado made a superman-like diving grab to rob Eloy Jiménez of what likely would have been a go-ahead extra-base hit, preserving the Tribe’s two-run lead.
“I think those guys might be getting tired of me,” Mercado joked. “Just to be able to save runs for my teammates is always nice. ... Those guys go out there and work their butts off, so you know, we got to do the same out in the outfield -- play our butts off and give it our all.”
To back a strong outing by starter Adam Plutko, who was penciled in as the Game 2 starter after Monday’s rainout, the Indians jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first on a Francisco Lindor RBI double and a Carlos Santana two-run homer. Each Tribe starter has tossed at least six innings and given up two or fewer runs so far this season.
In the fourth, Mercado gave the Tribe a 5-1 lead with a two-run single to left that ultimately became the game-deciding hit, assuring that Plutko’s outing was not wasted. Rookie reliever Cam Hill entered in the ninth and recorded his first career save to secure the doubleheader sweep.
“It's nice to look up on the scoreboard and see you get two wins against a good team like that,” Mercado said. “They have a really good lineup. They assembled a pretty good team in the offseason. We know they're going to be tough. They played us well last year, especially towards the end of the season. And you know, being able to come out and make a statement like that -- that we're not going anywhere. We're still the same team we were last year and better. It’s nice, and we feel confident right now.”