CLEVELAND (AP) - The Indians had already locked up the best record in the AL, captured the Central Division title and compiled the second-longest winning streak in baseball history.
With one last victory, now it’s back to the playoffs.
Josh Tomlin pitched into the sixth inning and Jay Bruce drove in a pair of runs, leading Cleveland to a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday to close out the regular season.
It was the Indians’ 102nd victory - second most in franchise history - and gave them 33 wins over their final 37 games dating to Aug. 24, when it began an AL-record 22-game winning streak.
“You obviously want to take a step forward going into the playoffs, and we were able to do that today,” said Tomlin, who is penciled in as the fourth starter in the postseason.
“Now, I think I speak for everyone in the clubhouse when I say, ‘It’s time to get to work.’ We’re all pulling the same ropes, trying for the same goal of winning the World Series.”
Cleveland begins its playoff quest in an AL Division Series against the winner of the wild-card game between the Yankees and Twins. It lost the 2016 World Series in seven games to the Chicago Cubs.
“It’s been a special regular season,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We were talking about that today as a staff, how proud we are of these guys. Now, we’re going to embrace the next challenge, whatever that may be.”
Tomlin (10-9) tossed 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball, striking out six and giving the club five pitchers with double-digit victories. Cody Allen worked a perfect ninth for his 30th save as Cleveland set a majors’ season record with 1,614 strikeouts.
Bruce’s two-run single in the first gave him 100 RBIs for the second time in his career and helped the Indians take a 3-0 lead. Cleveland acquired the 30-year-old slugger in an Aug. 9 trade with the Mets.
White Sox right-hander Chris Volstad (1-2) walked Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez to begin his day - all of them scored - before settling down. He allowed three hits over six frames in his second start in the majors since 2012.
Ramirez went 2 for 2, including his AL-high 56th double, and Carlos Santana added a sacrifice fly. Rob Brantly hit a leadoff homer in the fifth off Tomlin for Chicago’s lone run.
“We finished the season in a good place and I’m excited, so happy to be in the playoffs again,” All-Star shortstop Lindor said. “We put ourselves in this position and I can’t wait for it to start. I’m looking forward to the whole experience.”
THE NEXT STEP
The White Sox finished 67-95 in their first year under manager Rick Renteria. It was their worst record since 2013, but featured the development of SS Tim Anderson, 2B Yoan Moncada, 3B Yolmer Sanchez, DH Matt Davidson, RHP Carson Fulmer and RHP Juan Minaya, among others.
“All in all, I think we showed improvement and we showed some fight,” Renteria said. “People should be optimistic about the coming years.”
Indians: OF Michael Brantley (sprained right ankle) went 0 for 2, but said he felt “great, ready to go” following the game. The two-time All-Star had been sidelined for seven weeks before delivering a pinch-hit single Saturday. “If I’m on the playoff roster, that’ll be great,” Brantley said. “And if I’m not, I’ll be the biggest cheerleader on the team.”
The Indians take on the winner of Tuesday’s wild-card game. Game 1 of the best-of-five Division Series is Thursday at Progressive Field. Cleveland will have home-field advantage over every potential playoff foe, except for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who led the majors in wins.
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