CLEVELAND -- At this point in the season, with what is at stake, the Indians are not concerned about the manner in which they pick up a victory. Cleveland is chasing down a place in the postseason, so the club needs as many wins as possible, in any way possible.
On Friday night, heavy rain and an ugly forecast helped the Indians assume one of the American League's two Wild Card spots.
The Indians picked up a 2-1 rain-shortened win against the Astros thanks to some some poor defense by Houston and the storm that soon followed at Progressive Field. The victory was the seventh in the past nine games for the rolling Tribe, which claimed a spot in the current playoff picture thanks to Texas' loss at Kansas City.
"It's all about the 'W''s at this point," Indians first baseman Nick Swisher said. "If we keep winning, the season keeps going, and hopefully everyone here in Cleveland gets a little happier."
The Indians took advantage of three errors by the Astros and received a solid effort from starter Zach McAllister, to move up the Wild Card ladder. The Rangers now sit a half-game behind the Indians, while the Rays, Orioles, Royals and Yankees remain in the hunt. With the win, the Tribe put itself in Wild Card position for the first time since Aug. 4.
The showers arrived and the tarp was unrolled in the middle of the seventh inning, sending the game into a delay that lasted one hour and nine minutes. As the rain fell, the Indians aired Baltimore's game against Tampa Bay and Texas' tilt in Kansas City on the scoreboard in left field. The Indians diehards, who took shelter and donned ponchos, cheered as the Orioles' grabbed a lead against the Rays late in their game, which eventually went to extra innings.
Cleveland's players had the games on TVs in the clubhouse, too.
Call it a case of Wild Card fever.
"It's exciting," McAllister said. "This is an exciting time right now in the year. To be where we are right now, it's awesome. You can't ask for anything better right now."
When game was officially called at 10:20 p.m. ET after six and a half innings, the crowd on hand cheered Cleveland's win. No one inside the locker room was bemoaning the abbreviated contest, but Indians manager Terry Francona made it clear the final call was out of the team's hands.
"I talked to the umpires," Francona said. "They were in touch with the league. There's no break [in the radar]. We were prepared to stay here as long as we needed to, but it didn't look like a very good forecast. We have nothing to say about it. It's completely in the umpires' and the league's hands."
Houston took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, when third baseman Brandon Laird sent a pitch from McAllister into the left-field bleachers for a solo home run with two outs. That slim advantage proved short-lived for the Astros, who did themselves no favors with a handful of sloppy plays on defense.
With one out and a runner on first base in the second inning, Laird booted a grounder off the bat of Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera for a costly error. Two batters later with the bases loaded, Laird again mishandled a grounder -- this time from Mike Aviles -- to miss a chance at an inning-ending double play. A run scored on the play to pull the game into a 1-1 deadlock.
"If we made a couple of defensive plays," Astros manager Bo Porter said, "we arguably could be standing here with a 1-0 victory."
The Houston defense helped the Tribe (84-70) again in the fourth inning.
Astros lefty Brett Oberholtzer allowed a one-out single to Ryan Raburn before issuing a walk to Cabrera. Olberholtzer then induced a ground ball from Michael Brantley, who chopped the pitch to Houston first baseman Chris Carter. Hoping to start a double play, Carter threw wildly beyond second base and into left field for an error for Houston (51-103).
Raburn scored from second on the play, while Cabrera and Brantley moved up to third and second base, respectively, after Astros left fielder Marc Krauss' relay to the plate sailed by catcher Carlos Corporan. Olberholtzer avoided further damage in the inning, but was hung with two unearned runs in his six frames before the delay.
"The kid tonight's good," Francona said of Olberholtzer. "He's got a good ERA and you can see why."
McAllister lasted one batter into the sixth inning, when he issued a four-pitch walk to Jose Altuve that convinced Francona to turn to the bullpen. McAllister exited to a standing ovation after holding the Astros to the lone run on four hits. The right-hander struck out three and walked two in an outing that proved more effective than pretty.
McAllister was able to thank his defense for its part in the win.
Center fielder Michael Bourn made a diving catch to rob Houston's Jonathan Villar of a hit in the first at-bat of the game. Cabrera used a barehanded grab to snare a bouncer from L.J. Hoes for a flashy out in the third inning. In the fifth, after McAllister slipped into a bases-loaded jam with one out, second baseman Jason Kipnis teamed with Cabrera for a crucial double play.
"When you don't knock the ball all over the ballpark," Francona said, "you've got to do whatever it takes to stay ahead, and I thought we did that."
The Indians did just enough, and did not complain when Mother Nature intervened.
"Wins are wins," McAllister said. "It doesn't matter how they come, especially right now."