CLEVELAND — The Indians wrapped up the home portion of their regular-season schedule Wednesday night with a 7-2 victory over the White Sox.
It’s up to them whether they’ve played their final game of 2013 at Progressive Field.
Cleveland embarks on a four-game series in Minnesota that begins tonight with the Indians owning a one-game lead over the Rangers for the American League’s second wild-card spot.
The Indians took care of business at home, winning all six games of the final homestand. Now, with their postseason lives on the line, they’ll have to do the same on the road.
“We did what we needed to do,” said manager Terry Francona, whose team won its sixth straight game and for the 11th time in its last 13 games. “It’s very exciting to go play games that are this meaningful. This is as good as it gets.”
“They’re must-wins until they’re proved otherwise,” said second baseman Jason Kipnis of the trip to Minnesota. “That’s the way we want to approach it. We have four games left. When you decide your own destiny, you just want to go handle it. The easiest way is to win all four. If we take care of business, we’ll like where we end up.”
Cleveland continued its shocking domination of the White Sox, beating Chicago for the 14th straight time and for the 17th time in 19 games this season.
They were able to win Wednesday thanks to a quality outing from fire-balling phenom Danny Salazar and plenty of offense.
Salazar, who is no longer under a strict pitch count, lasted 5⅓ innings, allowing two runs on six hits, while striking out eight.
At 23 and getting his first taste of the big leagues, Salazar (2-3, 3.12 ERA) has been far from overwhelmed.
“I thought Danny pitched really well tonight,” Francona said. “I thought tonight he used all his pitches better. I love the way Danny attacks the strike zone. The more he uses all his pitches, his velocity is going to play up that much more.
“I think the mound is the most comfortable place in the world for him. This kid’s come a long way. He’s very poised. I don’t think the game speeds up on him very much.”
A solo home run from Avisail Garcia gave Chicago the first lead in the second, but the Indians answered with two of their own in the bottom of the inning.
The first run scored on an error, with Michael Brantley driving in the other on a base hit.
Brantley has been red hot as of late, batting .514 (18-for-35) with two homers, two doubles and eight RBIs over a nine-game hitting streak.
A two-run homer from Nick Swisher put Cleveland in front 4-1 in the fifth, with the Indians adding another in the sixth to chase White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod, who allowed five runs on eight hits over 5⅔ innings.
The game was played in front of 30,942 fans and it had a positive finish outside of the end result.
Cleveland ace Justin Masterson made his first appearance since sustaining a left oblique injury Sept. 2, pitching a scoreless ninth inning, while striking out two of the four batters he faced.
Masterson, who isn’t expected to start again unless the Indians advance to the American League Championship Series, entered to a rousing ovation from the hometown contingent.
“That was kinda cool. It worked out really well,” Francona said. “He came in and had a real good slider. It went from our ace getting hurt to all of the sudden having a weapon, and we will use him. He can be a big part of what we’re doing.”
The Indians are hoping what they’re doing is participating in a one-game wild-card playoff once the trip to Minnesota is complete.
“One at a time, we have to play one game at a time,” veteran team leader Jason Giambi said. “Everything is so close.
“We’re in control of our own destiny. That’s all you can ask at this time of year. We don’t have to worry about anybody else beating anybody else, we’ve just got to go out and play baseball, and that’s the fun part of the game.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Minnesota
WHERE: Target Field, Minneapolis
PITCHERS: McAllister (9-9, 3.88 ERA) vs. Albers (2-4, 3.98)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM
MAGIC NUMBER: 4