CLEVELAND -- Although the Cleveland Indians clinched the American League Central Division with six days remaining in the regular season, there was plenty to still play for against the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals.
While the Indians experienced a two-game losing streak in the days following the clinch, they rebounded to sweep a three-game series from the Royals, the defending World Series Champions, at Kauffman Stadium to lock up home-field advantage for the American League Division Series with the Boston Red Sox, which gets underway Thursday at Progressive Field.
“You get to the last weekend of the year, and sometimes, you see teams sort of taper off,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I was really proud of our guys. They keep playing. Nobody asked for a day off, all of the pitchers wanted to pitch, and I think that’ll help us moving forward.”
Like Francona, Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin believes the fight the team displayed in the final weekend of the season shows just how important the game and postseason are to the players in the clubhouse, many of whom never experienced the postseason before now.
“I think that’s a testament to the kind of character we have in this clubhouse,” Tomlin said. “I know I say that every time I do an interview now, but it’s the truth. Guys love playing the game, and they come to the ballpark ready to play.
“We knew we could’ve coasted and still been in the playoffs, but there’s things on the line and we understand that, so guys came ready to play. We wanted to have the best record and home field. That was what was at stake, and we went out there and tried to take care of business.”
Winners of the American League Central Division for the first time since 2007, the Indians (94-67) will host Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series against the A.L. East champion Red Sox (93-69) on Thursday and Friday nights, October 6 and 7, at Progressive Field.
A potential Game 5 of the first round would be played in Cleveland on Wednesday, October 12.
Game 3 at Fenway Park will be played on Sunday, October 9. A potential Game 4 matchup in Boston would take place on Monday, October 12.
Tomlin was on the mound for the Indians on Sunday, and in earning his 13th win of the regular season, he did what was necessary to ensure the team an extra day of rest instead of having to play the 162nd game in Detroit to determine the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the American League.
“I’m trying to block that out as much as I can, try to treat it like a playoff game as much as I can,” Tomlin said. “I know it’s not, but you know there’s still something on the line, so to go out there and just try to be yourself and not try to do anything more and understanding that’s what it’s going to take when you get to the playoffs. It’s not trying to do anything special or anything more just because you’re in the playoffs. Just try to go out there and compete.”