CLEVELAND - The Indians left Progressive Field on the brink of a playoff berth and went home. The party’s on hold.
In 2020, little goes as planned.
“Everything is awkward this year,” acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “So you can add that to it.”
Carlos Santana’s two-run homer snapped a fifth-inning tie and José Ramírez homered again as Cleveland moved closer to clinching a postseason spot — and slowed Chicago’s push for the AL Central title — with a 7-4 win over the White Sox on Monday night.
The Indians, who missed the playoffs a year ago, cut their magic number to one and would lock up one of the AL’s eight postseason spots if Seattle loses to Houston later Monday.
But Alomar said the club wasn’t staying around to watch, and that if the Indians do make the playoffs, there will be time to celebrate.
“It’s very difficult to stick around indoors with the (COVID-19) protocols and stuff like that,” he said. “We’ll just come back tomorrow and see what happens.”
By winning the series opener, Cleveland improved to 5-2 this season against the White Sox, who are on the verge of winning their first division crown since 2008. It’s possible the rivals could meet again next week in the playoffs depending on how the final days of the regular season unfold.
“You’re never out of the woods with the Chicago White Sox,” Alomar said. “They’re very dangerous and anybody in that lineup can take you deep and it’s almost like navigating through a hailstorm because they’re very powerful.”
After the White Sox tied it with four runs in the fifth against Aaron Civale (4-5), Santana came to the plate in the bottom half batting just .189 after striking out in his two previous at-bats.
But with Ramirez on first after a one-out walk, Santana pulled a 2-1 sinker from Jace Fry (0-1) over the left-field wall and into the empty bleachers. Franmil Reyes hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh to put Cleveland up 7-4.
Nick Wittgren struck out the side in the seventh and James Karinchak worked the eighth before Brad Hand pitched the ninth for his 14th save in 14 tries. He struck out slugger José Abreu for the final out with two runners on.
Hand got some help as center fielder Delino DeShields made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Tim Anderson of at least a double.
Two batters later, White Sox manager Rick Renteria was ejected for arguing a called third strike to James McCann by plate umpire Dan Bellino.
“I had to,” Renteria said. “I don’t want my catcher getting involved in anything that’s going to take him any further, and we already lost our catcher. I may have been wrong, but from vantage point it looked like the ball was around the plate, maybe caught the plate, but there was no reason for him to stand there and get involved in that.”
Ramírez, who has been making a late MVP push while carrying Cleveland’s offense, connected in the first off rookie Dane Dunning. It was Ramírez’s third homer in five at-bats over two days, fifth in five days and gave him 16 this season.
Ramírez has seven homers and 15 RBIs in his last 10 games.
Down 4-0, the White Sox, who missed some early chances against Civale, tied it on Abreu’s two-run single and Eloy Jiménez’s 14th homer.
But the Indians recovered thanks to Santana, who connected for his sixth homer.
“Santana comes out and picks me up and picks up the team,” said Civale, who has gone at least six innings in all 11 starts this season. “So it’s just a team effort every time out there and I think that’s the way that we play baseball.”
The Indians bumped ace Shane Bieber’s start back from Tuesday to Wednesday so he’ll be in line to pitch Game 1 in the playoffs. Bieber leads the league in nearly every major statistical category and is favored to win the AL Cy Young Award.
The White Sox came in leading the AL in average, slugging percentage and run differential. They’re second in runs, home runs and OPS and third in in on-base percentage.
The last team to lead in all those categories was the 1995 Indians.
The Indians played their 40th game without manager Terry Francona, who continues to recover from gastrointestinal surgery and blood-clotting issues.
The 61-year-old Francona won’t be back for this series, but he’s expected to enter the pre-playoff quarantine “bubble” with his team. It’s not yet known if he’ll be back for the three-game series against Pittsburgh starting Friday or the postseason.
White Sox: Catcher Yasmani Grandal left with a bruised right hand. X-rays were negative.
The Indians will start reliever Cal Quantrill in the second game of the series against Reynaldo López. Cleveland is also moving Zach Plesac’s start back to Wednesday.