CLEVELAND — In the midst of a celebratory clubhouse Sunday at Target Field, deposed closer Chris Perez broke his media silence.
It seemed like a fitting occasion.
“You can’t put it into words, especially after what happened last year,” said Perez of the Indians clinching their first postseason berth since 2007. “I think you have to give tons of credit to our front office. They made some really smart signings, really good trades.
“I could care less what I’ve done this year. We got our goal. We’re in the playoffs. It’s been a magical year.”
For Perez, it’s been a tumultuous one to say the least.
The two-time All-Star began the season with an injured right shoulder, spent time on the disabled list and was arrested on a misdemeanor drug charge. His performance on the field was subpar, especially over the last two months, resulting in the loss of his closer job with three games left in the regular season.
“It’s been an unfortunate year for me personally, with the injury and the off-the-field issue,” said Perez, who is 5-3 with a 4.33 ERA in 54 games and converted 25 of his 30 save opportunities. “It’s just been one of those years. It is what it is.
“I’m in a slump and it came at the worst time of the year. If this would have happened in April or May, yeah, it would (stink), but it would be kind of under the radar. Games are magnified in September, especially when you’re in it. All I can do is work. I feel good. I’m physically good. It’s just a little mechanical adjustment I need to make. I’ve had a rough couple months, but you can’t pick when that’s going to happen. This game can humble you fast.”
Francona made the decision to take the ball from Perez in the ninth inning, but the right-hander said he made the suggestion when he visited the manager’s office after a rough outing Thursday in the series opener against the Twins.
“I’m here to help the team,” said Perez, who has saved 124 games since joining the Indians in a trade during the 2009 season. “I went into Tito’s office the other night and said, ‘I’m not going to cost this team a playoff spot, we need to make a change right now. We’ve got four or five guys throwing the (crap) out of the ball. I don’t have an ego. Make the change.’ And he did. And that’s fine.
“I still feel like I can contribute to this team. It’s terrible when it happens late in the year and you’re in it. I haven’t given up. I’m going to help this team.”
Perez is still hoping to provide some relief for the Indians before their playoff run is complete, but he’s also looking forward to bouncing back in 2014 — whether it’s in Cleveland or not.
“I had to start the year off on the DL, trying to rush back,” said Perez, who is being paid $7.3 million on a one-year contract this season. “I think from Day 1, I’ve been fighting with mechanics. I’m going to try the best I can to get ready for the playoffs and try to help the team.
“But the offseason will be good for me. Taking that rest, coming back fresh the next year and finding my natural spot. That’s just one of those things. Like I said, you can’t pinpoint when it’s going to happen. Ubaldo (Jimenez) last year, he was fighting his mechanics. He found it the last two and a half months and now he’s untouchable.”
Scott Kazmir said he wants to return to Cleveland, and it’s a safe bet the Indians would welcome him back with open arms.
“I would love to,” said Kazmir, who is a strong candidate for American League Comeback Player of the Year, going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts after spending last season pitching in the Independent League. “The staff, all the way up the organization. It’s a first-class organization. The teammates that I have, there’s great chemistry. I would love to come back for sure.”
Kazmir said he and the Indians talked contract briefly before both decided to table discussions until the end of the year.
The left-hander endured a rough start to the season before turning it around.
“It was tough,” he said. “It was very inconsistent, but (the Indians) did hang in there with me. I tried to reiterate to them that everything’s feeling good, ‘Just stay with me and I feel like things are going to turn around,’ and they did.”
“To expect him to go through the whole year without some hiccups, that’s unrealistic,” Francona said. “I think he’s managed it unbelievably well.”
Michael Bourn returned to the lineup Saturday after missing three games with a jammed right wrist, only to leave Sunday’s game after injuring his calf on a stolen base attempt in the ninth inning.
Bourn was walking fine during the postgame celebration and said he expected to play in the wild-card game Wednesday.
The Indians became just the sixth team in Major League history to end the regular season on a 10-game winning streak. The Orioles were the last to do it in 1971.
* Cleveland recorded its seventh four-game sweep of the season to become the first team since the 1943 Cardinals to accomplish the feat.
* Cleveland finished just a game behind the first-place Tigers in the Central Division.
* The Indians went 56-18 against teams under .500.
* The Indians will hold a workout at Progressive Field on Tuesday in preparation for the wild-card game Wednesday. The Indians announced after the game
Sunday that the wild-card game is sold out.