Created on Saturday, 07 September 2013 Written by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CLEVELAND (AP) — 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 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. Earlier in the day, the team announced that Swisher, as a thank you to the fans, is paying the bill for the team to have an extra fireworks show on Sept. 21.
"We've got to keep winning games," he said. "This team lost close to 100 games last year. For us to just be in this spot, it goes to show you what this organization is doing."
Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler (7-4) allowed three runs in five innings and lost for the first time in his career on the road. The right-hander, who was called up on June 18, won his first five decisions away from Citi Field.
Justin Turner's seventh-inning homer, his first of the season, accounted for the Mets' run.
The Indians played the game without outfielder Michael Brantley, who returned to his home in Florida to be with his wife, who is expecting their first child.
Cleveland's first two runs came on sacrifice flies by Santana in the first and Michael Bourn in the second. Santana added an RBI single in the fifth and Lonnie Chisenhall had a run-scoring double in the sixth.
Wheeler, 23, is considered one of the top prospects in baseball. The Mets won 10 of his first 14 starts and he's only the second rookie in team history to win five straight road decisions in one season. Jerry Koosman won his first six road decisions in 1968.
NOTES: While the live chicken the Indians used as a good luck charm Wednesday has been returned to its owner, the bird was still being talked about Friday. Rumors of Boston players eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games in 2011 surfaced after Francona was let go by the Red Sox following that season. Asked if he enjoyed his most recent chicken experience better than the first, Francona laughed and said, "As long as the chicken wasn't drinking beer, we're good to go." ... Mets LHP Scott Rice, who leads the majors with 73 appearances, will have sports hernia surgery and miss the remainder of the season. ... Niko Lanzarotta, an 8-year-old Indians fan with cerebral palsy who had a special wish granted last month at Progressive Field, will return to the ballpark Saturday. Prior to the July 24 game, Lanzarotta asked Santana and 2B Jason Kipnis if they would hit a home run for him. Both players did and Niko will receive the home run balls from the fans who caught them. ... RHP Corey Kluber, who has been out since Aug. 6 with a sprained middle finger, will be activated to start Saturday for the Indians against LHP Jonathon Niese.