For three perfect innings, Cleveland Indians’ fans were left scratching their heads asking, when did Cole De Vries become a future Hall of Famer?
After the first eleven batters were retired in order, including five on strikeouts, a Jason Kipnis single up the middle and a monster home run to right by Carlos Santana woke the sleeping offense, as the Indians went on to win by a 5-1 final over the Minnesota Twins on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
The win pushed the Indians’ season record to 91-70 and put them in the driver’s seat in the American League Wild Card race with one final game remaining. They are 20-6 in the month of September.
“Every time you win, it makes the next day that much more important,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “We get to show up tomorrow and see if we can win a game. It’s exciting. It’s fun.”
Saturday’s game, originally scheduled to be a 4:10 PM ET start, had been pushed to a 1:05 PM ET start to accommodate a telecast by Fox. But a rain delay of over two hours and 40 minutes bumped the actual start time almost all the way back to its original scheduled start.
By the time the game started, the outcomes of the games of the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays were all but decided. The Rangers defeated the Los Angeles Angels, 7-4, and the Rays lost their second straight to the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-2, moving the Indians into the number one AL Wild Card spot.
If the Indians win the season finale on Sunday against the Twins, they will clinch the top AL Wild Card spot. They could still claim the top spot with a loss if both Texas and Tampa lose on Sunday. In the situation that Cleveland loses on Sunday and both the Rangers and Rays win, the three-game tiebreaker scenario will go into effect, with the Indians hosting a game at Progressive Field at a yet-to-be-determined time on Monday.
Still in a position to control their own destiny, the Indians’ Scott Kazmir surrendered a run with two outs in the fourth inning after the Indians had taken a 2-0 lead in the top half of the frame, courtesy of the two-out home run by Santana, his 20th of the season.
Ryan Doumit started the inning with a single to center and moved to second on a single by Josh Willingham. Kazmir, who at times baffled the Twins’ hitters at the plate, struck out Chris Colabello and Darin Mastroianni swinging. With two outs, Eric Fryer singled to right. The throw to the plate was cut off, but Doumit scored on the play, making it a 2-1 game. Pedro Florimon flied out to left to end the threat.
The Indians offense got the run right back and then some in the next half inning. After two outs, the Goon Squad stepped into action. Yan Gomes singled up the middle and Mike Aviles singled to left. Michael Bourn drove a triple off the wall in right field, easily scoring Gomes. On a play at the plate, Aviles appeared to be tagged out and never reached the plate, but the safe call by home plate umpire Larry Vanover gave Cleveland a 4-1 lead. After a walk by Nick Swisher, Kipnis drove in yet another run against the Twins this season with a single to right, scoring Bourn and giving the Tribe a 5-1 advantage.
“We’re taking it one game at a time. It’s everything,” said Bourn. “There’s no letting up. You have to come and play everyday no matter who you’re playing. We’ve been doing that thus far.”
The RBI for Kipnis was the 24th of the year against the Twins. He has driven in nine runs in nine games in the Twin Cities.
Kazmir got into trouble again in the fifth, but worked out of it. After a leadoff pop out, Brian Dozier walked. A single to left by Trevor Plouffe moved the runner to second, but Kazmir settled in to strike out Doumit swinging. With Willingham at the plate, Kazmir missed on a 1-2 changeup in the dirt and the Twins’ runners tried to move up. The dangerous cannon of Gomes threw a strike to Aviles at third and Dozier was tagged out trying to advance to end the inning with no damage done.
De Vries (0-2) was finished after the fifth. He started perfect and ended the loser, allowing five earned runs on six hits and a walk. He struck out seven batters, including four in a row at one point.
“He came in and established strikes with both the breaking ball and his fastball,” said Francona. “He really sliced right through us the first time through the order.”
The afternoon for Kazmir (10-9) ended after striking out the side in the sixth, two on swinging strikes. He struck out eleven Twins in total on the day in six innings of work. He allowed six hits and a pair of walks and only one run crossed the plate. Eight of his eleven strikeouts were swinging.
“I thought Kaz had a lot of life on his fastball,” said Francona. “I don’t think he located as good as he can. But he had good life, he got some foul balls and some swings and misses with the strikeouts and he threw some good breaking balls.”
Marc Rzepczynski pitched a scoreless inning in the seventh, allowing a walk. Cody Allen was perfect in the eighth and struck out a batter. Joe Smith did the same in the bottom of the ninth to wrap up the ball game.
The eleven game hitting streak of Michael Brantley ended with his 0-for-4 at the plate.
Ubaldo Jimenez (12-9, 3.38 ERA) will make the final start of the regular season for the Indians on Sunday afternoon. He has a 1.86 ERA since the All-Star break. Scott Diamond (6-12, 5.54) will go for the Twins. He is 1-2 with a 5.71 ERA in three starts for Minnesota since rejoining the club in the second week of September.
First pitch of the final game of the regular season will be at 2:10 PM ET. Follow along and support the Tribe on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio or on any of the affiliates of the Cleveland Indians Radio Network.
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images