CLEVELAND, Ohio — If Shane Bieber and Lucas Giolito meet Tuesday in Game 1 of the wild-card round of the postseason, one thing will not be lacking. That would be strikeouts.
There may also be some walk-off heroics.
Bieber struck out 10 in five innings and Giolito struck out 11 in six Wednesday night as the Indians beat the White Sox, 3-2, in walk-off fashion for the second straight night. This time the man swinging the bat was Jordan Luplow, who drove a 3-0 pitch from Gio Gonzalez onto the home run porch in left with one out in the ninth.
It was the Indians’ third walk-off win of the season and gave them a 7-2 record against the AL Central-leading White Sox. They have won six of their last seven games since their eight-game losing streak.
Luplow, after contact, flung the bat toward the Indians dugout because he knew he’d just ended the game.
“I was just trying to be aggressive, get a good pitch to hit and do some damage in those situations,” said Luplow. “That’s what you’re looking to do.”
The Indians clinched a postseason spot on Tuesday. The White Sox clinched last week. As of Wednesday, the seventh-seeded Indians were scheduled to play the second-seeded White Sox in a best-of-three series on Tuesday at Guaranteed Rate Field. Each team has four games left in the 60-game sprint so that could change, especially with the White Sox having lost a season-high four straight games.
The Indians, however, are playing some of their best baseball.
“It’s nice just because of all the stuff we’ve been through,” said Luplow. “With Tito being gone and this weird year. This is special to us. We’ve always had each other’s back this whole year. With our pitching staff and the offense starting to pick it up, it’s fun.”
Bieber leads the big leagues in wins, strikeouts, ERA and strikeouts per nine innings. In the AL he leads in winning percentage, FIP and ERA+. He raised his strikeout total to 122 by striking out 10 or more batters for eighth time this season. He also dropped his ERA to 1.63 in his final start of the regular season.
Giolito left after the sixth, trailing, 2-1. He threw a season-high 119 pitches in his third start against the Indians in 2020.
“I know Bieber felt like he was a little too strong today and he had trouble commanding the breaking ball early in the game, trying to slow himself down a little bit,” said acting manager Sandy Alomar. “He still managed to go out there for five, gave us a chance to win and he didn’t give up an earned run. The guy’s a fighter.”
Bieber threw 98 pitches in his five innings. He allowed one unearned run, two hits and three walks.
Asked if it was the plan to take him out after five with the postseason starting next week, Bieber said, “I just threw a lot of pitches, and a lot of stressful pitches. If I go out for the sixth, it’s easily a 115 to 120 pitch outing. . .especially if we’re potentially going to face them in a week or so.
“It didn’t make much sense, especially when you can hand the ball over to the guys we have.”
The Indians took a 2-1 lead in the sixth. Jose Ramirez, the walk-off hero from Tuesday night, drew a one-out walk. Carlos Santana, who entered the game 1-for-10 in his career against Giolito, doubled Ramirez to third when he sent a grounder through the unprotected left side of the shifted Chicago defense.
Franmil Reyes, down in the count 1-2, scored Ramirez with a sacrifice fly to center to break a 1-1 tie.
Chicago tied it in the eighth on a triple by Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu’s sacrifice fly off James Karinchak, who was charged with his third blown save. Abreu leads the big leagues in RBI with 57.
Rookie Triston McKenzie looked good coming out of the bullpen. McKenzie, who started the sixth in relief of Bieber, worked two scoreless innings. He struck out three and walked one.
McKenzie’s velocity dropped to 89 to 90 mph Saturday in his start against the Tigers. Pitching coach Carl Willis said that was not unexpected seeing that McKenzie is pitching competitively for the first time since August of 2018 because of injuries. McKenzie’s velocity was back to 94 mph in his audition to make the postseason bullpen.
The win went to Brad Hand (2-1), who pitched a scoreless ninth.
Santana gave Bieber a 1-0 lead with a leadoff homer in the second. It was his seventh of the season and tied him with Hall of Famer Larry Doby for sixth place on the team’s home run list. The homer was the first Giolito allowed against the Indians since Michael Brantley went deep on June 11, 2018.
The White Sox tied the score with an unearned run in the fourth. Abreu reached on an error when Ramirez couldn’t handle his hard grounder to third. Eloy Jimenez doubled him to third. Abreu scored on Edwin Encarnacion’s ground out to short.
The Indians and White Sox will end their regular-season series on Thursday when Zach Plesac (4-2, 1.85) faces Chicago lefty Dallas Keuchel (6-2, 2.04) at 6:10 p.m. SportsTime Ohio, MLB Network, WTAM and WMMS will carry the game.
Plesac and Keuchel could be the Game 2 matchup if the Indians and White Sox meet next week in the postseason at Guaranteed Rate Field.
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