CLEVELAND — This Indians team looks a lot different than the one that had been trolling the Central Division basement for much of the season.
Cleveland continued its winning ways Tuesday night at Progressive Field, clinching a three-game series against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox with a 5-3 victory.
The win, the Indians’ season-high fifth straight, trimmed their deficit to 4½ games in the Central Division. They trailed the first-place Tigers by 10½ games after a loss to Oakland on May 18, but a one-game-at-a-time approach has reversed the trend, according to manager Terry Francona.
“I think that’s the only way you can dig yourself out of the hole,” said Francona, whose team displayed the same resiliency last year during its march to its first playoff appearance since 2007. “It can look so daunting when you look too far in advance, but when you just take care of what you’re supposed to that day, all of a sudden you start doing what you’re supposed to and pay attention to detail and do you job, things can mount in a good way.”
The majority of the Indians’ success has come at home, where they lead the American League with a 20-11 record.
“I hope we win everywhere, but we’ve been really good here,” said Francona, whose club is 9-19 away from home. “We need to take care of business (today) and then we’ll figure out a way to win on the road.”
The Indians got a solid outing from T.J. House in the third big league start of his career. The left-hander allowed two earned runs on six hits over 5⅔ innings and kept Cleveland in the game against a talented lineup by never falling prey to the big inning despite encountering a number of jams.
“Regardless of what happened, he kept throwing strikes,” Francona said. “He stayed in long enough that we could turn it over to the bullpen.”
A critical confrontation for House arose with the Indians leading 3-1 in the fifth inning. After walking Dustin Pedroia with two outs, House needed 11 pitches but was able to retire the dangerous David Ortiz on a liner to center.
“That was a tough at-bat, but it was really fun,” House said. “I definitely didn’t want to give into him and let him win that battle. It’s awesome. I used to watch him when I was in junior high and high school, so it’s actually pretty cool to face a guy like that and actually have some success.”
The Indians started the game with five straight singles off Boston starter Jake Peavy to score three times in the opening inning.
Peavy got better as the Red Sox chipped away to tie the game at three on consecutive doubles from Xander Bogaerts and Pedroia off Scott Atchison in the seventh.
With two still on and one out in the inning, Francona called on left-hander Nick Hagadone, who made his first appearance of the season after being recalled from Triple-A Columbus on Monday.
Hagadone rose to the occasion, striking out A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Hassan to end the threat.
“That was a huge effort on Nick’s part,” Francona said.
The 3-3 deadlock was broken quickly, as Cleveland’s Michael Bourn delivered the game-winning hit on a two-run double off the wall in left-center.
Bourn appears to be past the hamstring issue that has plagued him on two separate occasions this season. He’s hit safely in 16 of his last 17 games, batting .366 (26-for-71) with two home runs, two triples, seven RBIs and 13 runs over the span.
“I think he feels good about himself,” Francona said. “I think he understands the impact he can have on our team and I think he’s enjoying it immensely.”
For the second straight night, right-hander Cody Allen retired Grady Sizemore for the final out of the game. Allen struck out Sizemore to earn his fifth save of the season.
“You’re not really thinking about that when you’re out there,” Allen said. “You’re just trying to get the guy out because you got A.J. Pierzynski on deck and there’s the chance to tie it up if Grady gets on base if you fool around with him a little too much and he draws a walk or something. You’re just trying to make a good pitch and get him out.”