CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Indians catcher Yan Gomes attended his post-game press conference on Sunday with a shirt in the style of a Hawaiian Punch label that read, “Refreshing – Throat Punch!”
With a dash of subtlety, the Indians catcher described what his team had just done to the Kansas City Royals’ 2017 American League Central hopes. Whether the message on the shirt was conscious or sub-conscious, the message from the defending champions of the division on the field was clear.
The Indians completed three-straight shutout victories over a single opponent, their first such streak since September of 1956.
Now nine games out of first place with 33 contests remaining, the Royals’ contention for a division crown is over.
It ended in embarrassing fashion, as the now wild card hopefuls slipped to 2.5 games back of the one game playoff by breaking a team record with 34 consecutive scoreless innings offensively. On the mound, things fell apart in the form of a nine-run 2nd inning for the Indians that was capped by a Gomes grand slam, a punch to a piece of anatomy of your choosing.
The Royals must now sell out for the second wild card spot after not deciding to sell assets at the trade deadline and make a run at the division.
If they do not accomplish that, Kansas City fans will pay for the team’s front office not restocking their minor league system. The majority of their core including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and Jason Vargas will all become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.
Meanwhile, the Indians moved into sole possession of the second-best record in the American League with the win, moving a half-game ahead of Boston.
The streak of shutouts is one the first of its kind for the team since Bob Feller’s final season in baseball, on a rotation led by Early Wynn, Bob Lemon and Herb Score.
It was even on the mind of Gomes when the final batter of the game stepped into the box.
“You start taking it in and it’s like all right, let’s keep it going,” the catcher said. “I was looking at Moustakas in the ninth and it’s almost like you’re pitching a no-hitter sort of deal, let’s get this last inning and finish it and we did.”
With a staff led by Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber, Sunday’s winner Carlos Carrasco, and a deep group behind them, three straight shutouts should put the rest of the league on notice. It is no secret that the Indians’ rotation is among the best – if not the best – in baseball, but it can now be told that the team with the worst ERA through early June is in form headed into September.
“It’s nice when you feel like all your guys are feeling pretty good about themselves,” Manager Terry Francona said. “You don’t have a crystal ball or anything like that, but they look healthy, they look like they’re throwing the ball like they can. That’s a good feeling.”
To boot, an offense that has stagnated at times has now scored 33 runs in their last 4 contests. While every offense has their ebbs and flows, the uptick is not lost on anyone either.
“I think from top to bottom everyone can do it and that’s where we become a pretty dangerous team and then give it to our staff, our pitching staff and I think everyone knows that nobody really wants to face our staff because of the way they attack hitters,” Gomes added.
The Indians are now just five games back of the Astros for the best record in the AL, as the hunt is just beginning.