CLEVELAND (AP) — Michael Brantley spent seven weeks on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle. He only needed one at-bat to show the Indians that he was prepared for the postseason.
The All-Star outfielder had a pinch-hit single in the fifth inning on Saturday night, earning a standing ovation from his teammates and a sellout crowd during Cleveland’s 2-1 loss to the White Sox.
Brantley battled Chicago rookie Carson Fulmer for 10 pitches before sharply driving the ball to right field in his first action since Aug. 8. The 30-year-old had missed the previous 50 games but was activated earlier in the day.
“All things considered, it seems almost miraculous to me that he was able to have the kind of at-bat that he had,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “His level of concentration, then to fire a hit in there, that was really something.
“Depending on how he feels tomorrow, we’ll walk through everything again, but I thought he was moving pretty well.”
AL Central champion Cleveland locked up the best record in the AL before it stepped onto the field when Houston lost to Boston. It will play the winner of the wild-card game between the Yankees and Twins in a Division Series.
The Dodgers won later Saturday to ensure they would edge Cleveland for the best record in the major leagues. The Indians will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs unless they face Los Angeles in the World Series.
Brantley’s return was effective and timely as the Indians plan on announcing their playoff roster following their regular-season finale Sunday. Brantley did not make himself available to the media.
“It was like Michael didn’t miss a beat, which was incredible,” Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “It was awesome. I was up on the railing the whole time because I know how hard he’s worked to be ready for the postseason. He wasn’t going to miss it.”
Fulmer (3-1) allowed one run in five innings for Chicago, while Juan Minaya worked a perfect ninth for his ninth save.
Catcher Kevan Smith drove in both White Sox runs with a single in the fourth off Indians ace Corey Kluber and a double in the fifth against Mike Clevinger (12-6).
Kluber worked five innings of one-run ball to lower his ERA to an AL-best 2.25. He struck out three and threw 81 pitches in his final postseason tuneup.
Kluber finished the season with an 18-4 record and 265 strikeouts, making a strong case for a second AL Cy Young Award while Boston’s Chris Sale faltered down the stretch.
“When you go against Kluber, you’re facing the best, so it’s a positive no matter how you do,” Chicago manager Rick Renteria said. “He is a barometer that shows you where you’re at. So are the Indians.”
Indians RHP Trevor Bauer infamously sliced open his right pinkie finger while repairing a drone on the eve of the 2016 playoffs. After winning his career-high 17th game Friday over the White Sox, the hi-tech junkie said he plans on building a new model soon. “Let’s hope he does it after the season,” Francona said sternly. “Hopefully, we’ll stay away from all drone-related issues.”
White Sox: LF Nicky Delmonico (left shoulder strain), who was injured Friday while diving for a ball, was sent back to Chicago for additional tests.
Indians: C Yan Gomes (right hand) was hit by a pitch in the fifth, but remained in the game. His right wrist was broken by a pitch last September.
White Sox: RHP Chris Volstad allowed six runs over five innings in a 9-3 loss to the Angels on Sept. 26. It was his first start in the majors since 2012 with the Cubs.
Indians: RHP Josh Tomlin wraps up the regular season by making his 26th start. He is 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA in three appearances against the White Sox this year.
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