MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As he dived through the clubhouse on a makeshift slip-and-slide drenched with beer and champagne, a euphoric Nick Swisher could only think about how far his Cleveland Indians had come, and how quickly they got there.
They staggered into September on a five-game skid that had them all but finished in the AL playoff picture and entered the final two weeks of the season essentially needing to win every game to scratch their way into the postseason. And they did just that.
Cleveland earned its first postseason berth since 2007, beating the Minnesota Twins 5-1 Sunday to clinch an AL wild card as Ubaldo Jimenez tied a career high with 13 strikeouts.
Swisher homered in the first inning for the Indians, who became the first major league team to win its final 10 regular-season games since the 1971 Baltimore Orioles finished with 11 straight victories, according to STATS.
“The way we’ve been playing as of late, talk about starting pitching, talk about clutch hitting from our guys,” a goggled Swisher hollered amid the celebration. “I’m telling you, we’re bringing that wild card game back to the 216 and that place is going to be packed out and rockin’, baby!”
Cleveland will host Tampa Bay or Texas, who will play a tiebreaker on Monday, in the one-game AL wild-card playoff on Wednesday night.
Jimenez (13-9) gave up one run and five hits in 6 2-3 innings for the Indians, the first team to sweep seven four-game series in one regular season since the 1943 St. Louis Cardinals. After the final out, Cleveland players mobbed each other on the diamond in a jubilant celebration.
“I’m so crazy about this group of guys,” first-year manager Terry Francona said. “From ownership to baseball ops to the clubhouse guys, to be able to stand here and say the Indians are going to the playoffs, I’m so proud of everybody.”
Scott Diamond (6-13) gave up four runs — two earned — and seven hits for the Twins (66-96).
Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes also drove in runs for the Indians, who entered with a one-game lead over Tampa Bay and Texas. If the Indians had lost Sunday and the Rays and Rangers won, two days of tiebreaker games would have been needed to determine the wild cards.
Jimenez and the Indians wanted no part of that.
After giving up a leadoff single to Alex Presley in the first, the right-hander retired 17 straight. He was on a run of five strikeouts in a row when he walked Presley with two outs in the sixth and gave up a single to Brian Dozier. But Jimenez threw a called third strike past Trevor Plouffe to end the threat. Jimenez went 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA and 51 strikeouts in six September starts.
“It’s really good,” Jimenez said. “We’re going to start that game knowing we have played really good lately. We’re going to be bringing everything we have, especially (because) it’s only a one-game playoff. Anything can happen. Definitely we have a lot of confidence right now. Hopefully we get that game.”
Swisher’s two-run homer landed just over the flower bed in left field in the first inning and the Indians tacked on two more in the sixth thanks in part to throwing errors by shortstop Pedro Florimon and Diamond.
Cleveland lost at least 93 games in three of the previous four seasons. But the Indians increased their wins total by 24 games this year behind a strong pitching staff and Francona, a rejuvenated manager who has found a home in Cleveland after a messy end to his tenure in Boston in 2011. Their 21-6 record in September is the best in the majors, and they feasted on a soft schedule.
The Indians won 15 of their last 17 games, beating up on the White Sox, Royals, Astros and Twins, but they’re not apologizing.
“We needed every one of them,” general manager Chris Antonetti said. “We never set any limits on what we can do as a team. It’s been really fulfilling to see how we’ve come together and it’s a testament to this group of guys and the way they’ve continually picked each other up. It’s a really resilient group that had some tough stretches but always rebounded. It’s been fun to see.”
And it’s not over yet.
“I just hope we get to keep playing,” Francona said. “We don’t want to go home.”
NOTES: The Twins offense reached double digits in strikeouts for a game for the 66th time this season. The previous franchise high for a season was 26. … Indians 2B Jason Kipnis stole his 30th base of the season in the seventh inning, his second straight season to reach that plateau.