In a playoff race as tight as the AL Wild Card race, it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you get the win. Thursday night, the Cleveland Indians nearly blew a five run lead in the ninth inning but were able to survive and win a 6-5 ballgame against the Minnesota Twins.
Thanks to bats of the Indians being alive all night and Zach McAllister finding ways to avoiding giving up any early runs, the Indians were able to get a huge win and stay one game ahead of the Texas Rangers in the AL wild card race.
The first real scoring chance of the game for the Indians came in the third inning. The inning started off just like the first two of the game, with Mike Aviles grounded out and Drew Stubbs struck out to start the inning. The next batter was Dr. Smooth, aka Michael Brantley, who reached first base on a two out single to left field. Nick Swisher followed up Brantley with a walk, setting the stage for Kipnis. Kipnis however couldn’t drive in the runs as he grounded into what looked like the third out of the inning, but an error on Brian Dozier let everyone reach safely. The error loaded the bases for Santana but he couldn’t capitalize on the chance, popping up to right field.
The Twins had a chance in the bottom of the third to take a lead and control of this game, but some great pitching for McAllister helped avoid disaster. The inning started with back-to-back singles for the Twins, putting Alex Presley on first base and Escobar on second base. McAllister got exactly what he need though off the bat of Dozier, a double play ball hit at Kipnis for the first two outs. Doumit ended the inning with another ground ball right at Kipnis.
The top of the fourth inning was when the Indians finally came through and took the lead, thanks to solid hitting and poor defense from the Twins. Ryan Raburn started the inning with a single right up the middle. After the single things got interesting as Raburn moved to second on a balk. With Cabrera up to bate, he attempted to lay down a bunt to move Raburn to third base but the pitcher mishandled the ball and threw it well past the first baseman, driving in Raburn and putting Cabrera safely on first base. Yan Gomes came up to bat next and blew this game open with a no-doubt-about-it homerun to deep left field to extend the lead to three runs.
McAllister had another exciting inning in the bottom of the fourth inning but again allowed no runs. McAllister walked Plouffe with two outs then allowed a Chris Colabello. McAllister again shut down the Twins and their scoring chance by getting a Darin Mastroianni groundout to shortstop.
After a one-two-three top of the fifth inning, McAllister struggled again allowing two one out base runners, a walk to Alex Presley then a single to Dozier. Bryan Shaw came in with the runners on base and only one out but got out of the inning with just one pitch, a ground ball double play ball right to Kipnis.
Adding to the lead is always crucial and the Indians were able to do that in the sixth inning. Raburn started off the inning with a leadoff single to left field. After a Cabrera pop up, Gomes singled to left field, putting men at first and second base. Aviles moved the runners along with a groundout to the shortstop with his only play being at first base. Drew Stubbs walked to load the bases before Brantley drove in Raburn on a single to left field, increasing the lead to four runs.
Shaw stayed in to pitch the bottom half of the sixth inning and kept the Twins off the board for another inning, despite giving up a one out walk and infield single.
The seventh inning saw the Indians tack on one more run and extend the game out of reach. Kipnis started the inning with a leadoff walk, moving to second on a wild pitch then coming home on a Santana double to deep right field. Santana’s double gave the Indians a five run lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning.
Marc Rzepczynski came into to pitch the seventh inning for the Tribe. Rzepczynski started the inning with a strike out but hit the second batter he faced. Two batters were all Rzepczynski was able to see, as Cody Allen came in from that point. Allen struck out Dozier, before giving up a single to Doumit to score the Twin’s first run of the night.
The Indians were able to respond in the eighth inning, getting a leadoff single from Gomes. Aviles moved Gomes over with a ground out to the pitcher, followed up by a walk from Drew Stubbs. Brantley continued to swing a hot bat, hitting a single to left field, driving home Gomes and extending the lead back up to five runs.
After the Twins set down the Indians in order in the top of the ninth inning, Chris Perez came into the game to try to get the last three outs of the game and adventure followed. Perez gave up a single to Escobar to start the inning, then allowed Presley to hit a triple, driving home Escobar and cutting the lead to only four runs. Dozier was up next and grounded the ball to third base, driving home Presley and making it a 6-3 ballgame.
Doumit came up and kept going with the theme of getting hits off Chris Perez, getting a single to left field. Perez finally got out number two on a Josh Willingham fly ball. The last batter he faced was Pinto, who took Perez to deep right field for a two run homerun, cutting the Indians lead to just one run.
Joe Smith came into the game with two outs and a one run lead. Smith gave up a single to Plouffe on a single that rolled down the third base line and barely stayed fair. Smith then proceeded to walk Colabello on a full count, putting the tying run on second base and the winning run on first base. Smith was finally able to get the 27th out that seemed so hard to find on a three pitch strikeout of Oswaldo Arcia.
Bryan Shaw (7-3, 3.24 ERA) gets credit for the win, Andrew Albers (2-5, 4.05 ERA) gets the loss and Joe Smith (SV 3, 2.32 ERA) gets the save.
This wins keeps the Indians one game ahead of the Texas Rangers for the second wild car spot and one game behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild card spot.
The Indians will take on the Twins tomorrow at 8:10 ET at Target Field in Minneapolis. Corey Kluber (10-5, 3.61 ERA) will pitch for the Indians as Pedro Hernandez (3-2, 6.05 ERA) will pitch for the Twins.
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images