Rookies gaining experience while enjoying ride

Rookies gaining experience while enjoying ride

CLEVELAND -- While Edwin Encarnacion celebrated on Sunday afternoon, taking in the scene inside Cleveland's loud, plastic-wrapped and soaked clubhouse, rookie Francisco Mejia stood next to the slugger. Mejia looked like the superhero's sidekick, tagging along on this adventure.

Dress for October: Get AL Central champs gear

A little more than two weeks ago, Mejia and Greg Allen were wearing RubberDucks uniforms with the Indians' Double-A affiliate in Akron. They were called up when the Major League roster expanded for September, and they've been on an historic ride ever since. For two weeks, Mejia and Allen did not experience a loss in the big leagues. Now they were a part of Cleveland's American League Central-clinching party.

Indians clinch AL Central

"My shirt is drenched," said Allen, who won the Eastern League championship with Akron last year. "The champagne is just a little bit sweeter here."

The Indians' recent 22-game winning streak -- one that established a new AL record for consecutive wins -- naturally generated a few benefits. The most obvious was the Tribe's rapid rise up the standings, culminating in Sunday's celebration and putting Cleveland in position to fight for baseball's best record down the stretch. Without The Streak, the Indians would not have been able to clinch during this past homestand.

Ask anyone inside the Tribe's clubhouse, though, and they will point to another important aspect of the winning streak. For the rookies in the room, that run provided a platform to contribute in a high-pressure environment. With each win, the Cleveland crowds gained momentum along with the team, creating a playoff-like scene in September. It almost served as a trial run for October for the team's younger players.

"It just lets them know how loud it is," Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin said. "It just kind of goes to show some of the younger guys that are up here in September right now what they have to look forward to hopefully. And to enjoy that moment they're in."

The veterans have certainly enjoyed seeing the young players embrace their moments.

Yandy Diaz went 4-for-4 with three extra-base hits in a win over ace Chris Sale and the Red Sox on Aug. 24, when The Streak began. Erik Gonzalez had two homers on Sept. 7. Rookie Ryan Merritt made spot starts for wins No. 2 and No. 7 during the winning streak. Lefty Tyler Olson (still technically a rookie) is riding a scoreless streak of 24 appearances out of the bullpen.

Diaz's four-hit game

Mejia delivered a key run-scoring single in a win over the White Sox on Sept. 4 and Allen launched his first career home run on Sept. 7 in Chicago. Indians manager Terry Francona joked that Mejia keeps standing near him in the dugout with a bat in his hands during games. As for Allen, he has provided elite speed and defense in center field.

"Everyone has been contributing," Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer said. "You've got guys coming up in September that haven't been here a whole lot that are stepping in, being big parts of these wins for us."

Bradley Zimmer also played a big role for this year's Tribe, especially in the field. Look no further than his all-out diving robbery of Lorenzo Cain on Aug. 26 as an example. Last week, though, Zimmer fractured a bone in his left hand on a slide into first base. During Sunday's celebration, Zimmer partied with a protective plastic sleeve over his hand and forearm.

Next (young) man up.

"Whatever it takes to win," Zimmer said as the celebration roared on. "Hopefully we'll be doing this a couple more times here in the next month or so. Until then, I'll just enjoy this and have fun."

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 Facebook. MLB.com's Ben Weinrib contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.