By Jeffrey Flanagan and Jordan Bastian
KANSAS CITY -- The scoreboard watching is over.
After a three-game sweep of the Royals, and losses Sunday by the Red Sox and the Tigers, the Indians now know their immediate future: They won't have to play a makeup game Monday in Detroit, and they will open the postseason on Thursday at Progressive Field against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
"That's exactly what we wanted," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said after a 3-2 win over the Royals on Sunday. "We went into today knowing that all we could do was take care of our game. It looked like we could have a perfect day. We were joking about it, saying it was going to be a perfect day today. It turned out to be that way. It's awesome."
The AL Central-champion Tribe completed the regular season with a 94-67 record, marking the fourth straight winning season under manager Terry Francona. In the Indians' final victory of the regular season, right-hander Josh Tomlin was strong through 7 1/3 innings, giving up six hits and two runs. He walked none.
Indians catcher Yan Gomes, playing despite suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right hand a little over two weeks ago, belted the first pitch he saw from Royals right -hander Ian Kennedy in the third inning for a two-run homer, his ninth.
Francona said he was thrilled with how his players finished off the season.
"You get to the last weekend of the year and sometimes you see teams sort of taper off," Francona said. "I was really proud of our guys. They keep playing. Nobody asked for a day off. All the pitchers wanted to pitch. And I think that'll help us moving forward."
Kennedy went 7 2/3 innings and gave up just four hits and three runs. He finished his first year with the Royals with a 3.68 ERA in 195 2/3 innings. He struck out 184 batters.
"Real durable starter for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I was really impressed with his fastball, a 92-93 mph fastball but a swing-and-miss fastball. He turned out to be a real nice addition to our team."
The defending World Series-champion Royals finished the season 81-81.
"In the end we didn't reach our goal of making the playoffs," Royals outfielder Alex Gordon said. "There's a lot of teams fighting for it, so you're not going to do it every year. Hopefully we can come back fresh next year."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Yan gone: Gomes' return to the starting lineup was a feat in itself, as the catcher was given a timetable of six to eight weeks after sustaining a non-displaced fracture in his right hand on Sept. 14. The story got even better in the third inning, when Gomes pulled a pitch from Kennedy over the left-field wall for a go-ahead two-run home run. The blast, which was Gomes' first since June 25, had an exit velocity of 104 mph and travelled 416 projected feet, per Statcast™.
"I didn't really feel anything. I was kind of numb throughout," Gomes said. "Going into that at-bat, I was kind of shaking my legs to see if I could stay in the moment here. It's been a pretty long journey getting back and trying to be part of the on-field part of this team. I'm glad to be back.
"Being pretty honest, I kind of couldn't believe it. It was a moment of I couldn't believe I was playing, and then I couldn't believe I hit a homer in the first at-bat. It was a pretty exciting moment."
Cuthbert goes yard: Royals rookie Cheslor Cuthbert, who has filled in admirably for Mike Moustakas (knee surgery) at third base since May, went out on a strong note. Cuthbert came up in the fifth inning and jolted a home run off Tomlin, his 12th of the season.
"It was a tough season," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "It was an up and down year for us. We had a lot of injuries but at the same time. we had a lot of guys like Cheslor and [Whit Merrifield] come up and prove they can play here. We going into next year with a lot of depth."
Tomlin Terrific: In his final regular-season outing, Tomlin was sharp once again for the Tribe. His next assignment will be Game 3 of the ALDS against the Red Sox on Oct. 9. With his showing against the Royals, Tomlin ended his campaign with a 1.69 ERA in his past five appearances (27 2/3 innings). That strong stretch comes after the righty went 0-5 with an 11.48 ERA in August.
"Boy, was he good," Francona said. "He's a tough kid. We all know that. I think we all thought that missing a start or two would do him some good. Being the competitor he is, he didn't want to, which we really respect. But, I think when it came down to it, he was able to almost hit the refresh button, even mentally, just thinking some things through. I think it was really good for him. He deserves a ton of credit, though. He got after it."
Ironman Esky: Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar started in his 162nd game of the season, making him the only Royal to start all 162 in a season. He also started all 162 in 2014. He now has started 171 straight games, the longest active streak in the Major Leagues.
"How about that? You know what? It's good in a lot of respects, but even just the fact that I was so happy for him that all the work he's put in. So, for him to be able to come into the dugout and get that reception from his teammates, I thought that was pretty cool. I was amazed." --Francona, on Gomes' home run
"It's a lot better for guys who are going through their first postseason games to have the crowd cheering for you than against you. That's the best part about it." --Kipnis, on opening the ALDS at Progressive Field
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Indians relief ace Andrew Miller struck out one of the two batters he faced on Sunday, giving him 123 strikeouts against nine walks this season. Miller is the only pitcher (starter or reliever) in MLB history to have at least 120 strikeouts and fewer than 10 walks in a single season.
Cleveland ended its regular season with a 49-26 record against the AL Central. That marks the most division wins in a season for the Indians since the 1998 realignment that created the five-team Central that exists today.
Terrance Gore entered the game in the ninth inning as a pinch-runner for Kansas City and was caught trying to steal second base by catcher Roberto Perez. Gore has been caught only twice in his MLB career in the regular season. Both times have been by Perez this year.
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: The Indians are scheduled to begin the ALDS against the Red Sox on Thursday with righty Trevor Bauer on the mound.
Royals: General manager Dayton Moore and Yost will meet with the media Monday morning at 11 a.m. CT as the players pack up and say their good-byes.