CLEVELAND — Under the old postseason format, the Indians would be in the midst of a five-game series with the Red Sox in the American League Division Series. Instead, after finishing a 162-game regular season atop the wild-card standings, they have to win a one-game playoff to earn that right.
“It’s stating the obvious, you lose, you go home,” manager Terry Francona said. “This is one game. You can either embrace it or you can moan about it. I would rather embrace it and hope we win.”
“It’s exciting for the fans,” Cleveland general manager Chris Antonetti said. “If I had my preference, it would probably be a little bit of a different structure. There have been some creative ideas that have been discussed. It is what it is.”
It would stand to reason that a team would prefer to play more than one game to decide its playoff fate, but the format has its obvious lure.
“I like it. It’s exciting,” Indians left fielder Michael Brantley said. “(It’s) one game. We know what we have to do. They know what they have to do.”
Antonetti said alternative measures were discussed during the general managers’ meetings last November, with Cubs GM Theo Epstein proposing a potential two-day scenario that would include a doubleheader followed by a rubber match if necessary.
“I don’t think anything’s on the horizon for changing anytime soon, though,” Antonetti said. “It’s certainly a better question for some people (at the league office) in New York.”
In the end, Cleveland pitcher Justin Masterson thinks it’s a matter of perception.
“The person that loses is going to think you need to have a three-game series, the person that wins thinks it’s great,” Masterson said. “If you don’t like it, win your division. If you don’t, you gotta pay the cost of whatever’s happening.
“It’s cutthroat — see what happens — but it’s exciting.”
Francona surprised some by starting Lonnie Chisenhall at third base over veteran Mike Aviles. The Indians were facing right-hander Alex Cobb and the left-handed hitting Chisenhall had a hit in three career at-bats off the Rays starter.
“He’s got a little bit of history and the way they match up it gives us some balance, where if they bring in a lefty, we’ve got Aviles sitting there,” Francona said.
The right-handed hitting Aviles is 0-for-7 with two strikeouts in his career off Cobb.
The Indians went with 11 pitchers on their wild-card roster. Surprisingly enough, deposed closer Chris Perez was one of them.
“We gave thought to everybody, but, no, it wasn’t a tough decision,” Francona said of finding a spot for Perez, who has struggled mightily over the past two months. “You don’t know how a game’s going to go, whether it’s nine, 10, 11 or 12 innings. Given the right situation, he could find his way into a game. He’s got 20-something saves. He’s run into some tough outings lately. He’s done everything with the right attitude, so I think we wanted to put him on (the roster).”
Perez, who is struggling with his mechanics, threw a bullpen session Sunday in Minnesota and worked a simulated game Monday in Cleveland.
After a rough outing Thursday in Minnesota, Perez told Francona he had no problem being removed from the ninth-inning role.
“He said he didn’t want to hurt the team,” Francona said. “He never said he didn’t want to pitch. He was just telling me he would do anything to help us. He wasn’t bailing on anybody.”
* Bench players Matt Carson and Jose Ramirez were surprise additions to the one-game roster.
“Matt, since he’s come up, has been a big part of what we’re doing, whether it’s going in for defense, pinch running,” Francona said. “He can play all three outfield positions, so it gives us some flexibility.
“And Ramirez, kind of the same thing. Since the day he got here he looks like he belongs. He can change the game with his speed and we can move him around on the infield in case something happens.”
Right-hander Cody Allen hasn’t received much attention in the AL Rookie of the Year race despite pitching well in a late-inning relief role for the Indians.
“I don’t know why he wouldn’t,” said Francona of the 24-year-old Allen, who went 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA in 77 games (most appearances by big league rookies) during the regular season. “He’s pitched high-leverage innings, pretty much from the start of the season, and a lot of innings (70⅓). Cody should be in that mix.”
Some of Allen’s competition was in town for the wild-card game Wednesday — Tampa Bay’s David Archer and Will Myers.
Allen was part of his first postseason clinch party in the visiting clubhouse in Minnesota after the Indians won their 10th straight game Sunday.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” Allen said. “I mean, if we go 8-2, we’re going home.”
Masterson is one of a handful of players that Francona has managed in different places, pitching for him from 2008-09 out of Boston’s bullpen.
“(Tito’s) the same guy (he was in Boston), (just) different people (here),” Masterson said. “He stays true to himself and I think that’s what makes him such a great manager.”
Rays manager Joe Maddon has much respect for Francona.
“I’m a big Tito fan,” Maddon said. “We go way back. It doesn’t surprise me the job that he’s done here. He is excellent at what he does. He’s got great people skills. He’s a great communicator, wonderful sense of humor. So none of that stuff surprises me, but it’s an organizational thing, and the Indians have been solid for years regarding acquiring and developing young players.”
Go get ’em
Francona did not deliver a pregame speech to his club prior to the wild-card game.
“No, you try to stay in the routine,” he said. “I don’t need to give them any Knute Rockne, one for the Gipper. They know what’s going on. I think I mentioned embrace the challenge and enjoy the competition but nothing much more than that.”
Former Indians player Andre Thornton (1977-79, 1981-87) threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
* Prior to the game, Cleveland signed right-hander Tyler Cloyd from the Phillies. Cloyd made 13 appearances (11 starts) for the Phillies this season, going 2-7 with a 6.56 ERA. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Indians designated left-hander Clay Rapada for assignment.