By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: The Indians did their part to keep themselves in the American League wild-card race Wednesday night as they wrapped up the home portion of the regular season with a 7-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
The fans did their part, too — with 30,942 showing up at Progressive Field, including a walk-up crowd of 5,181, the third largest of the season.
If the Indians have their way, it won’t be their last home appearance in 2013. With four regular-season games left in Minnesota, and the Tribe’s magic number down to four, the team has the weekend to put the final touches on a wild-card spot.
“It was really kind of electric and that’s pretty cool,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of the crowd. “Hopefully, we’ll play more games here.”
Rookie right-hander Danny Salazar (2-3) racked up eight strikeouts while limiting the White Sox to two runs over 5⅓ innings. After Avisail Garcia blasted Salazar’s first pitch of the second inning 419 feet into the right-field bleachers for a 1-0 lead, Salazar settled down.
“It was the first pitch and I tried to go outside, but delivered it right in the middle,” Salazar said.
Even so, Francona was impressed with Salazar’s outing.
“I thought last game he had a tendency to overthrow a bit because he felt so strong,” he said. “I thought tonight he used all his pitches better.”
The Indians got that run plus one back in the bottom of the inning against White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod (4-11). With two outs, a fielding error by third baseman Marcus Semien kept the inning alive. Michael Brantley followed with an RBI base hit, the two unearned runs giving the Indians a 2-1 lead.
That lead doubled to 4-1 in the fifth, when Brantley led off with his third hit of the night — a double off the center-field wall — before scoring on Nick Swisher’s two-run homer. Brantley finished the game 3-for-5.
“It’s very exciting,” Brantley said of the team’s sixth consecutive win. “The ball’s in our court. We gotta go out there and take it one day at a time. As long as we handle what we need to take care of, we’ll be just fine.”
The White Sox cut the lead in half after Salazar exited the game with one out and two on in the sixth inning. Dayan Viciedo singled to left field against reliever Bryan Shaw, scoring Alexei Ramirez.
Indians infielders botched a rundown between second and third, but the miscue didn’t cost them, as Shaw struck out the next two batters to limit the damage to one run.
With the Indians holding a two-run lead in the sixth, Francona didn’t want a repeat of Tuesday night’s dramatics.
After Asdrubal Cabrera singled to lead off the inning and Jason Giambi followed with a walk, Francona called on Michael Bourn (who did not start due to a right wrist sprain) to run for Giambi. Then he pinch-hit Mike Aviles for Lonnie Chisenhall, with Aviles’ sole purpose being to sacrifice the runners over with a bunt. After Aviles did so successfully, Drew Stubbs followed with a sacrifice fly that pushed the lead to three runs.
Two stolen bases and an error aided two Indians seventh-inning insurance runs, pushing the lead to five — a perfect cushion for ace Justin Masterson to pitch the ninth.
Masterson is working in the bullpen after missing three weeks with an oblique injury.
In his first relief appearance since July 9, 2011, Masterson won a standing ovation, then struck out two batters in his inning of work to bring the night’s total to 16 strikeouts for five Indians pitchers.
“I figure I started the season and finished the home season,” Masterson said. “The guys put some runs on the board so I could get out there and get my feet wet.”