Analyzing the Indians offense night in and night out would be like beating a dead horse at the moment. 

The Tribe’s won back-to-back games over the Reds, but followed up a three-hit performance on Tuesday night with a four-hit outing Wednesday. With the way things have been going, and pitching that has served as a bailout and then some for Cleveland, finding that spark of some sort can be the difference in a game. After Franmil Reyes provided it on Tuesday with his go-ahead home run in the eighth inning. 

On Wednesday, Cleveland had runners at first and second with one out in the fifth inning of a scoreless affair. After having the bases loaded in the third with just one out and failing to score, this was a second significant opportunity for the Tribe to get something across. For a team that has scored more than four runs only twice in their 13 games, packaging runs together and making the most of those opportunities has been problematic. Sometimes, though, unconventional ways can produce results. 

After César Hernández hit an RBI single off Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen through the left side to score Jordan Luplow, Jose Ramirez came to the dish with Oscar Mercado at second base, and Hernández at first. Bouncing a ball to Cincinnati shortstop Freddy Galvis, it looked like a potential inning-ending double play ball. 

Mercado didn’t stop running. 

Galvis pitched the ball to Reds second baseman Josh VanMeter, who noticed Mercado was not stopping while being unsure he would get Ramirez in time. Mercado, anticipating that the Reds would try to complete a 6-4-3 double play, rounded third and sprinted for home. He got beat by the throw, but the Tribe’s center fielder snuck past Cincinnati catcher Tucker Barnhart to swipe the plate, causing a fist pump from Mercado and a frenzy from an Indians dugout that’s been searching for moments to cheer on from the offense. 

“It was just one of those things where I blacked out and went for it,” Mercado said. “If I get thrown out there, I have every reason to get chewed out and let known not to do that again. To be honest, it probably wasn’t the smartest of plays. But, it worked out.”

Mercado claimed he didn’t even look to Tony Mansolino, who was the third base coach for Cleveland on Wednesday with normal coach Mike Sarbaugh helping interim manager Sandy Alomar in the dugout while Terry Francona (gastrointestinal issues) is still a few days away from returning. Mansolino was not putting on the stop sign, but had his finger pointed towards the plate, for what it’s worth. 

“As soon as I saw Jose hit it, I figured, ‘he’s fast, he’s probably going to force them to speed it up,” Mercado added. “About three-fourths of the way to third, I made up my mind that I was going to keep going. I didn’t expect them to not go for it (the double play) so, it made that all a little more risky. Once I made up my mind I was going for it, I was doing it. I think, especially in the game of baseball sometimes, you gotta take some chances. The way, kind of, things are going for us right now, sometimes you gotta manufacture runs whichever way possible and you know, I took a risk, and thankfully it paid off.”

That it did, providing insurance that wasn’t even needed by the Indians bullpen, which dealt 3.1 innings of scoreless ball, resulting in the relievers’ combined ERA to sit at 1.65 following the win.  

With the win, Cleveland guaranteed that it will hang on to the Ohio Cup for the sixth consecutive year. 

Even in the midst of the Tribe’s offense being dead last in MLB with a .546 OPS and a .181 batting average – and last among teams that have played 11 or more games with just 34 runs, Mercado racing for the plate and converting was a microcosm of an area the Indians have always needed to have to differentiate themselves even if their lineup was performing at an average level – speed. 

Finishing sixth in all of baseball with 106 stolen bases a year ago, Cleveland has just two on the 2020 campaign, which is tied for 23rd in the league. The Twins, who finished dead last in 2019 with just 28 swipes, have just one this year but are sitting pretty at 10-2, and in first place in the American League Central with a three-game lead. While they have to first generate baserunners to translate to opportunities, the running game has to be a part of the Tribe’s formula, one that doesn’t have the power of the Twins or White Sox lineups. For Mercado, it’s always been a part of his identity. 

“Not just now, but always. It’s a part of my game. I’m always trying to force things. Be smart, but at the same time, be aggressive,” he said. “I know the guys that are hitting behind me, at the top of the lineup, are all really good hitters and in any way possible, they’re going to put the ball in play and have good at-bats so on the base paths, I usually like to take a chance sometimes and try to make things happen and that’s always been my mentality. I’ve always been aggressive since I was little. That’s kind of the way I’m going to keep playing the game.”

“He said he let his instincts play, and they paid off,” Alomar said of Mercado’s baserunning houdini act. “I didn’t consider that play the best, but he (Mercado) said that he looked at the guy (Galvis) charging the ball and turning, so I’ll have to look at the replay and see if he saw that.” 

“When we don’t hit, we’ve got to take some chances running,” the Tribe fill-in skipper added. 

A chance as big as the one Mercado took Wednesday isn’t typical, and the Indians will need to find a way to alleviate the pressure off their pitching staff, but it was enough to provide the Tribe with momentum to get back to over .500 on the 60-game sprint. 

Cleveland wraps the rivalry series with Cincinnati Thursday at 6:10 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. Tribe right-hander Carlos Carrasco will be opposed by the Reds’ Luis Castillo, who was pushed back a day and is coming off a loss to the Tigers. 

Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today

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