Behind the scenes: Getting to come home
The Indians handled their end of the equation. Even with a division title wrapped up, this was no time to coast. They fought through a weekend sweep of the Royals, putting themselves in position to head home, if other teams played along.
Cleveland’s players weren’t about to go through the motions to end the regular season.
“We’re not one of those teams,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said after Sunday’s win. “We knew there was a possibility we could still clinch home-field. The only way we could do that was go about our business and worry about what we could control, and that was winning our games.”
The Indians did that. Now, the team plane waited for an itinerary. Cleveland would either be heading to Detroit for a makeup game on Monday, or going back home to get a few nights in their own beds ahead of the American League Division Series.
Cleveland needed Detroit and Boston to both lose for that last scenario to come to fruition. Indians manager Terry Francona had been monitoring the out-of-town scoreboard — all of Sunday’s games began at 3 p.m. ET — during the Tribe’s game at Kauffman Stadium.
“I was watching,” Francona said. “I always do, just because it kind of helps me relax. We’ll either shower and go home or shower and go to Detroit. Either way, I’m showering.”
After reporters wrapped up the postgame session with Francona, Detroit was finishing its game with Atlanta and Boston was still trying to beat Toronto. Many of Cleveland’s players had yet to get out of their uniforms completely.
In the middle of the visitors’ clubhouse at The K are a series of couches in a “U” formation. Hanging from a large blue pole in front of the seating area if a large flatscreen TV. The Red Sox game was on that one. On a blue post behind the couches is another screen. That one was playing the Tigers game.
There wasn’t an open seat to be had. Danny Salazar sat on one couch, on the edge of the cushion. Andrew Miller, who has been through postseasons before, leaned back, looking more relaxed. Kipnis, who still had his baseball pants on, with dirt caked around the knees, was watching Detroit’s game on his phone.
When Jim Johnson struck out Justin Upton to seal a 1-0 win for the Braves, the players erupted in cheers. Francisco Lindor shouted: “One down!” With the loss, the Tigers were officially eliminated from the playoffs. A Monday game no longer mattered for Detroit.
Like a tennis match, all the heads in the room turned at once to focus on Boston’s game.
The Blue Jays and Red Sox were knotted, 1-1, as the game dragged to the ninth inning. At one point during the last inning, catcher Chris Gimenez yelled, “Nervous!” Some players had pulled their locker chairs over to the middle of the room. Others stood. Rajai Davis, showered and fully dressed by this point, was sitting on a stationary bike behind the couches. Jose Ramirez sat on a coffee table.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Xander Bogaerts singled up the middle. Francona walked out of his office and remarked with disgust, “They got another hit?”
Finally, Jackie Bradley Jr. grounded out to Toronto’s Josh Donaldson, who fired to first base for the game-ending out. In Kansas City, the Tribe’s players all jumped out of their seats and roared. There were hugs and high fives, shouts and smiles. The Indians did their part, and the stars aligned with the other teams, too.
“I’m Coming Home” began blaring through the clubhouse speakers, and the players all reacted in loud laughter.
“That’s exactly what we wanted,” Kipnis said amidst the celebration. “We went into today knowing that all we could do was take care of our game. It looked like we could have a perfect day. We were joking about it, saying it was going to be a perfect day today. It turned out to be that way. It’s awesome.”