KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Indians manager Terry Francona sat in the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, moments after a 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals, and knew only that Boston awaited his club in the postseason.
He didn’t know where the series would begin. That was still to be determined by games elsewhere, as was whether Cleveland would need to make up a rained out game in Detroit on Monday.
“Well,” Francona said with a grin and a shrug, “we’re either going to shower and go home or shower and go to Detroit. Either way, I’m showering.”
Suds up that loofah, Tito. You’re heading home.
The Tigers’ loss to the Braves coupled with Boston’s loss to the Blue Jays gave Cleveland (94-67) homefield advantage in the divisional round. The newly minted AL Central champions open against Boston (93-69) on Thursday at Progressive field with Trevor Bauer slated to take the hill.
“You get to the last weekend of the year, you see a lot of guys kind of tailing off,” said Francona, who has yet to win a postseason game in Cleveland. “Our guys never did that.”
Not even in their regular-season finale.
Josh Tomlin (13-9) dueled with the Royals’ Ian Kennedy (11-11) into the eighth before finally pulling ahead. Carlos Santana drew a walk off Kennedy to start the inning, Jason Kipnis followed with a double and Frnacisco Lindor hit a fly ball deep enough to right field for the lead.
Tomlin got the first batter in the eighth before Andrew Miller finished it up, and Cody Allen handled the ninth to earn his 32nd save and give the Indians a nice boost heading into the playoffs.
“I’ve never really experienced the postseason,” said Tomlin, the expected Game 3 starter,” so I know I’ll be ready when that time comes. We knew we put ourselves in good position.”
It was a frustrating finale to an injury plagued season for the Royals, who had been to the past two World Series and were coming off their first championship since 1985. A dismal July nearly buried them, an inspired August got them back into contention, and a stumbling finish left them at 81-81.
It was their first non-winning season in four years.
“We were just one win away from having a winning season. We had four cracks at it at the end of the year and just couldn’t get it,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Offensively, we just couldn’t do it.”
Meanwhile, there were so many playoff permutations riding on the final day of the regular season that Francona was still trying to sort everything out 3 hours before first pitch.
The only thing he knew was his club was playing Boston on Thursday — somewhere.
They fell into a 1-0 hole when Jarrod Dyson and Whit Merrifield opened the game with doubles off Tomlin, the expected Game 3 starter in the divisional series, but the lead didn’t even last the two innings.
The Indians answered in the third when Tyler Naquin was plunked by a pitch from Ian Kennedy, and Yan Gomes went deep to left field on the first big league pitch he’d seen since July 17.
Kansas City tied it up when Cheslor Cuthbert homered leading off the fifth inning, but the Indians were able to coax across one more run to once more beat a team they’ve dominated this season.
“One mistake, I gave up a home run and it kind of cost me,” Kennedy said. “Overall, I was really happy how the outing went. At least, I gave our team a real solid chance.”
Indians: Gomes, activated from the 60-day DL on Friday, started for the first time since breaking his right hand in a rehab game Sept. 14. “It’s been a long way back,” Gomes said. “They said I can’t hurt it any more. You’ll just have to play through it, play through the pain.”
Royals: 1B Eric Hosmer missed the finale with a wrist issue he’s been battling for weeks. C Sal Perez was the DH to protect an ailing hamstring. … RHP Dillon Gee is scheduled to have another procedure Oct. 11 for blood clots in his shoulder and lung. The issue popped up during a start in Detroit.
Indians: The chase begins for their first playoff victory since 2007, when they lost to the Red Sox — managed by Francona — in a seven-game AL championship series.
Royals: Time to think about next season. General manager Dayton Moore has some roster decisions to make, including whether to exercise team options on SS Alcides Escobar and RHP Wade Davis.