CLEVELAND -- The Indians have spent the past several years scoreboard watching at this point in the season. There is a distinct difference this time around, considering Cleveland is not hoping to see other clubs lose as the regular-season window closes.
The closer admits that he has been paying attention to rival games since May, but Wednesday offered some pregame viewing. Inside Cleveland's clubhouse at Progressive Field, the right-hander was watching the Tigers' afternoon tilt against the White Sox, who defeated Detroit to help the Indians increase their lead atop the American League Central to 5 1/2 games.
Long after Detroit lost, right-hander Carlos Carrasco delivered a solid performance, Mike Napoli belted a tape-measure home run, Brandon Guyer came through with a clutch pinch-hit double and Allen slammed the door with three straight strikeouts while a runner loomed on first. After Allen's game-ending punchout of Astros All-Star Jose Altuve, the second baseman looked at the pitcher and nodded in a show of respect.
Allen and the Indians walked off the field with 24 games left in the regular season. The win improved Cleveland's record to 80-58, which is the same record through 138 games that the club had in 2007. That was the last time the Tribe took the crown in the Central, which has been won by the Royals (2015), Tigers (2011-14), Twins (2009-10) and White Sox (2008) in the years since.
Now, those teams are all looking up at the Tribe, which will take the field on Thursday having held first place for 96 straight days.
"We've put ourselves in a spot where teams are chasing us," Allen said. "We still have to play good baseball. First and foremost, we're focused on going out and trying to win baseball games on a daily basis."
The momentum swung in Cleveland's favor in the fifth inning of this win, Cleveland's seventh victory in nine games.
Francisco Lindor led off with a single (contributing to his Major League-leading 23rd three-hit showing of the season) and Napoli drilled a pitch from Doug Fister into the left-field bleachers, a projected 427 feet from the plate, per Statcast™. It was the second home run in the past three games for Napoli, who had not gone yard previously since Aug. 11. The homer also pushed the Indians ahead, 4-3.
"I'm glad it came in a win," said Napoli, who has a career-high 31 home runs. "We still have a lot of meaningful baseball left, which will be fun down the stretch. It's going to be a fun time."
Cleveland swelled its lead to 6-3 later in the fifth, after Houston turned to left-hander Kevin Chapman with one out and Tyler Naquin due to hit with two runners on base. At that juncture, Indians manager Terry Francona turned to Guyer to grab a bat. The outfielder entered the evening with a 1.005 OPS against lefties and raised that mark with a two-run double to the wall in left-center.
"That's a really valuable guy to have," Francona said.
That provided a cushion large enough to withstand a late push from the Astros, who remained two games behind the Orioles for the second AL Wild Card spot. The Indians have grown familiar with chasing contenders in recent seasons. They much prefer to be the team being chased.
"We're going to have some meaningful games against [Detroit] coming up," Allen said. "We've just got to focus on continually playing good baseball."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.