CLEVELAND – With ski googles perched on his head, Michael Brantley stood in the middle of Cleveland’s rocking clubhouse just a few from a bin overflowing with dozens of empty beer and champagne bottles.
The party was in full swing on Saturday. So were the Indians.
And as he watched his teammates target each other with foamy fluids, Brantley wanted to cherish an A.L. Central championship that seemed preordained.
“I’m savoring every moment of this,” Brantley said after the Indians won their third straight division title on Saturday. “This never gets old to me. This is a lot of hard work that this group has put in to get to this point. It’s all well-deserved, well-earned, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Unchallenged for months, the Indians scored 11 runs in the first two innings and rolled to a 15-0 rout over the Detroit Tigers, who made four errors, managed only two hits and proved to be no match for the Indians since April.
Neither were the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox or Kansas City Royals, who have spent the last three seasons staring up in the standings at the Indians.
Francisco Lindor and Brantley connected for back-to-back homers in the first inning off Michael Fulmer (3-12), Jose Ramirez had three hits and the Indians became the first team this year to clinch a division championship.
It’s the initial step toward an October when Cleveland will try to win its first World Series since 1948 – the longest drought in the majors.
“It’s really nice,” Lindor said. “We understand we still have a long way to go. We had an idea we were going to be in the postseason for a week now, but still, it feels good to celebrate, give that little teaser to all the guys, like, ‘This is what could happen if you continue to win.’ ”
Cleveland’s current three-year reign in the Central is the club’s longest since winning five straight from 1995-99.
Mike Clevinger (12-8) allowed one hit in six innings, and Yonder Alonso added a two-run homer as Cleveland’s offense awakened from a late-season slump.
The lone blemish for the Indians was an injury to designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who rolled his right ankle while rounding second base in the fourth. But Encarnacion looked fine afterward as he Ramirez, Lindor and others took turns soaking each other in celebration.
The Indians removed any suspense about whether they would clinch by scoring six runs in the first, the outburst triggered by the shots from Lindor and Brantley off Fulmer, who was pulled after five pitches because of knee inflammation.
Lindor’s 35th homer was also the All-Star’s eighth leading off, breaking the club record he shared with Grady Sizemore (2008). Brantley followed with his 16th homer and the rout was on.
Cleveland’s clinching had been a foregone conclusion.
The Indians were expected to win one of baseball’s least competitive divisions and did so with ease. They moved into first on April 21, took a double-digit lead for good on Aug. 8 and pulled away.
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