Cleveland Indians' Nick Swisher hits a two-run home run off Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Axelrod during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
CLEVELAND — After 158 games of highs, lows, losing streaks and walk-off wins, the Cleveland Indians can almost touch the postseason.
October is right in front of them.
“We’re in control of our own destiny,” designated hitter Jason Giambi said. “That’s all you can ask for at this time of year.”
Rookie Danny Salazar gave Cleveland a much-needed quality start and Nick Swisher hit a two-run homer as the Indians tightened their grip on one of the AL’s two wild-card playoff spots with their 14th straight win over the Chicago White Sox, 7-2 on Wednesday night in their home finale.
Salazar (2-3) struck out eight in 5 1-3 innings for the Indians, who won their final six home games to stay with the wild-card leaders. They’ll hit the road for four games in Minnesota with a lead over Texas in the wild-card chase. Cleveland is also one game behind Tampa Bay for the top spot with just four games left.
“We did what we needed to do,” manager Terry Francona said. “It’s very exciting to go play games that are this meaningful. This is as good as it gets.”
Swisher homered in the fifth inning off Dylan Axlerod (4-11) as the Indians finished the season 17-2 against Chicago.
Cleveland hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007 but it’s closing in on a berth under Francona, who guided Boston to two World Series titles and has helped the Indians to 20 more wins than they had a year ago.
A spray-painted bedsheet in the upper deck of Progressive Field said: “Playoff Bound.” The Indians, who already have 20 more wins than last season, have some work to do before that can happen.
They haven’t won it all since 1948, but if they can win their next four games in Minnesota, the Indians will give themselves a chance to end the drought.
“We’ve just got to play baseball, that’s all we gotta do,” said Giambi, who may have saved Cleveland’s season with a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth inning Tuesday night. “We don’t have to worry about anybody else beating anybody else. We’ve just get to go out and play baseball, which is the fun part of the game.”
Asivail Garcia homered for the White Sox, 6-19 since Aug. 30. Chicago is just 25-47 against AL Central teams, and were overmatched against the Indians.
“They’re better than us this year,” Ventura said. “They had our number. They outplayed us. We had leads late, but they seemed to fight and come back. They had a few walk-offs.”
Swisher’s two-run shot in the fifth gave the Indians a 4-1 lead and allowed 30,942 fans to breathe a little easier following the emotional rollercoaster of Tuesday night, when Giambi’s majestic homer bailed out closer Chris Perez, who gave up two homers in the top of the inning.
With the Indians leading 2-1 in the fifth, Brantley, who has been using one of Carlos Santana’s bats, doubled with one out and Swisher, who was 0 for 13 against Axelrod, followed with a shot into the Indians’ bullpen in center. After rounding the bases, Swisher saluted the crowd by raising his hands and forming an “O’’ and “H’’.
The Indians packed their travel bags for a four-game series against the Twins not knowing if they’ll play again this season after Sunday. They could be coming back to Cleveland for the winter, playing a one-game playoff just to get to into the wild-card game or maybe headed to either Tampa Bay or Texas for one game with the winner advancing to the division series.
“The ball is in our court,” said Brantley, who is batting .514 (18 of 35) during a nine-game hitting streak. “As long as we handle what we need to take care of, we’ll be just fine. We took care of business at home and now we just have to go on the road and continue to do what we’re doing.”
Indians ace Justin Masterson, sidelined since Sept. 2 with an oblique injury, pitched the ninth. It’s possible the All-Star right-hander could start again this season if the Indians get in the playoffs.
One night after Giambi’s breathtaking homer, the Indians had to scrap again to get past a team with 96 losses.
Leading 4-1 in the sixth, Salazar gave up a pair of singles and was replaced by Bryan Shaw. Dayan Viciedo followed with an RBI single, and after the Indians botched a rundown, Shaw was in a jam. But the right-hander struck out Jordan Danks and Marcus Semien.
The Indians got the run back in the sixth on Drew Stubbs’ sacrifice fly and went up 7-2 in the seventh on Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run single.
Cleveland took advantage of Chicago miscues to score two unearned runs in the second and take a 2-1 lead.
Lonnie Chisenhall reached on a fielder’s choice and moved up on Axelrod’s wild pitch with two outs. Drew Stubbs hit a high hopper toward third baseman Semien, who should have handled it but let it bounce off his glove for an error, allowing Chisenhall to score.
Brantley, who has been Cleveland’s best hitter in the clutch, followed with an RBI single to center. He entered batting .349 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
The White Sox played their final road game without Paul Konerko, who was kneecap was sore and swollen after fouling a pitch off it Tuesday.
NOTES: Indians CF Michael Bourn didn’t start because of a sprained right wrist. Francona wanted to give his leadoff hitter a day of rest and treatment. Bourn pinch-ran for Giambi in the sixth. ... Giambi has two pinch-hit walk-off homers this season, both against the White Sox. He’s the first player to hit two pinch-hit walk-offs against the same team in a season since 1968, when Detroit’s Gates Brown did it twice against Boston. Giambi was overwhelmed by the standing ovation he got in the second. “Speechless,” he said. “To have that opportunity last night, a dream come true.” ... White Sox DH Adam Dunn was given the night off, though it appears he’s been idle for several weeks. After striking out four times Tuesday, he’s batting .115 (12 of 104) in his last 29 games.