Terry Francona thinks nerves are a good thing at this time of the season.
If that’s the case, the Indians manager hopes his players are on edge sometime into October.
Scott Kazmir struck out a season-high 12 in six innings, Nick Swisher hit a grand slam and the Indians continued their playoff push with an 8-1 win over the New York Mets on Friday night.
“This is a fun time of year,” Francona said. “When you show up to the ballpark and you’re nervous about the game, that’s really exciting.”
Kazmir (8-7) struck out at least one batter in each inning, including the side in the first, third and sixth.
The left-hander, who has been pushed back in the Indians’ rotation for extra rest over the last month, held the Mets to four hits, allowed no walks and hit a batter in winning for the first time since Aug. 4.
The Mets took Kazmir with the 15th overall pick in the 2002 draft, but he never pitched a game for them. Kazmir was dealt to Tampa Bay two years later for pitcher Victor Zambrano.
The trade turned out to be one of the worst in Mets history as Kazmir made the All-Star team twice with the Rays and Zambrano went 10-14 in parts of three seasons in New York, and was out of baseball in 2007.
“It’s great it was against the team that drafted me, but that definitely wasn’t crossing through my mind when I was out there on the mound,” Kazmir said. “We’re playing for a playoff spot right now. That’s the one thing I’m thinking about when I go out to the mound.”
Kazmir, signed as a minor league free agent after pitching in an independent league last season, fell one strikeout short of his career high, which came when he struck out 13 against Oakland on Aug. 25, 2007.
“Getting 12 strikeouts, that’s the most I’ve gotten in a long time,” he said. “Just to be able to throw my fastball consistently in the location I wanted to, that’s something I was very pleased with.”
“That’s the best I’ve ever seen him pitch and I saw him pitch in Tampa for a while,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Swisher’s grand slam came in the eighth and Carlos Santana added two RBIs.
Cleveland entered Friday three games out of the second wild-card spot.
The Indians have won three of four on their homestand after losing ground in the playoff chase during a difficult road trip.
“I wish we had a better record, but we’re in this every bit as much as about four or five other teams,” Francona said.
Swisher’s grand slam was the eighth of his career and produced fireworks exploding from the scoreboard.