‘How does he do it?!’ Oscar Mercado clutch catch saves game, maybe season for Indians
Oscar Mercado’s spectacular running catch saved the game for the Cleveland Indians. It also might have saved their season.
The rookie made a leaping, backhanded grab of Eloy Jiménez’s drive to center field with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning, allowing the Indians to escape with an 8-6 win over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night.
“It was the greatest catch I’ve ever seen — and we needed it at that moment,” designated hitter Franmil Reyes said. “That kind of catch with the bases loaded, it got the whole dugout pumped up. It was very impressive.”
White Sox manager Rick Renteria agreed, saying, “Obviously that young man in center field, Mercado, made a great catch. It’s probably one of the best catches I’ve ever seen.”
Cleveland had built an 8-2 advantage in the eighth before José Abreu and Tim Anderson each hit two-run homers, the latter off All-Star closer Brad Hand.
Nick Wittgren entered to face Jiménez, who hit a rocket toward the deepest part of the ballpark but was left speechless and smiling as he tipped his cap to Mercado after the play. Wittgren then struck out Ryan Goins to end the 3 hour, 54 minute game.
“I felt like I had a pretty good jump on that ball, but it was so much on a line, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have the time to get to it,” said Mercado, who also had three hits. “It was high, so I just went for it. Thankfully, I got it.”
The Indians, who had dropped four of their previous five games, remain in a battle with Tampa Bay and Oakland for the two American League wild-card berths despite losing third baseman Jose Ramirez and outfielder Tyler Naquin to season-ending injuries.
Right-hander Shane Bieber (13-7) struck out nine and allowed two runs over seven innings, winning for the first time in five starts since Aug. 9. The All-Star Game MVP exited with a six-run lead, but couldn’t exhale until Wittgren locked up his fourth save.
“That catch was incredible,” Bieber said. “I couldn’t really believe it, so I threw my hands up and said, ‘Holy smokes.’ I don’t know if it looked better on the field or on television, but we’ve been facing adversity all year and Oscar really picked us up tonight.”
Reyes hit a two-run homer — his 34th of the season and his seventh since being acquired from San Diego — and rookie Yu Chang had two singles and drove in a pair of runs. Reyes is batting .400 with five homers and 15 RBIs over his last 12 games.
“With Josey (Ramirez) out of the middle of the lineup, if he’s going to be that threat, it’s really going to help us,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.
Chicago right-hander Iván Nova (9-12) gave up six runs and 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings, raising his opponent batting average to an MLB-high .300.
Anderson had three hits and two runs, while Abreu’s homer was his 400th career extra-base hit. White Sox right fielder Daniel Palka went hitless in four at-bats, making him 1-for-53 on the season.
Francona had second thoughts about using RHP Carlos Carrasco in the eighth inning Tuesday. He gave up a three-run homer to James McCann and a solo shot to Jiménez that gave the White Sox a 6-5 win.
Carrasco, who was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia in June, had only made one appearance since being activated two days earlier.
“Maybe I rushed into it a little bit,” Francona said. “That’s what I was thinking about after the game.”
White Sox: OF Jon Jay (right hip strain) was transferred from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day IL, officially ending his season. The 34-year-old batted .267 with zero homers and nine RBIs in 47 games. He will be a free agent in November.
Indians: RHP Corey Kluber (left oblique strain) has “got a ways to go” in his recovery, according to Francona. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner was injured in the first inning of a rehab assignment at Triple-A Columbus on Aug. 18.
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