A ninth inning rally broke a three all tie in walk-off fashion on Wednesday night, as Mike Aviles drove home Asdrubal Cabrera with the winning run with two outs and the Cleveland Indians defeated the Minnesota Twins, 4-3.
The slumping Cabrera exposed Monday’s hero, Eduardo Escobar, playing out of position in left field for an injury-riddled lineup for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. A leadoff double over Escobar’s head off of reliever Casey Fien (3-1) by Cabrera set up the scoring opportunity for Cleveland. A sacrifice bunt by Lonnie Chisenhall moved Cabrera up to third. A grounder up the middle by Yan Gomes put a second out on the board, but Aviles delivered a line drive to center with the walk-off winner.
It was the first walk-off victory for the Indians this season.
“Just trying to get a bloop hit honestly,” said Aviles about his approach in the ninth. “Not trying to do too much. Not trying to really drive the ball because really, in that situation, all you need is a base hit. I was fortunate enough I got the outcome I wanted.”
“We hung in there. They came back and tied it. We didn’t let them take the lead,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “When you get to hit last, you always feel like you have a chance.”
The Indians wasted a fifth straight impressive outing by their starting rotation, and, surprising to few who have watched the Indians over the course of the season, an error proved to be immensely costly early on.
Danny Salazar, on the mound in the top of the third, retired the first two quickly before Pedro Florimon worked the count full and drew a walk. With Brian Dozier at the plate, Florimon broke for second and stole the base. On the play, the throw from catcher Gomes missed the mark and went into center field, allowing the runner to move to third. Two pitches later, Dozier doubled to left center, plating Florimon and giving the Twins a 1-0 lead.
The Indians responded immediately in the bottom half of the inning and, like the Twins, did it with two outs. Ricky Nolasco struck out Chisenhall and Gomes on a combined seven pitches before Aviles singled up the middle. A shot to center by Nyjer Morgan moved Aviles over to third. Nick Swisher walked on four pitches to load the bases. The Indians new clutch three-hitter, Michael Brantley, doubled to right on the second pitch of his at bat to score a pair and to give the Indians their first edge of the night, 2-1.
The Indians entered the night batting a Major League best .481 with the bases loaded this season. Brantley is now 6-for-8 on the season (.750) with the bags full with an MLB-leading 13 RBI and extended his hitting streak to a new season high of seven straight.
“Any time you can get your three-hole guy up there, a guy like Brantley, the way he has been swinging it, it’s always good,” said Aviles. “You get a guy in scoring position for him. He flies under the radar. Not many people know much about him. He’s got such a consistent approach…He’s the same hitter no matter where he hits in the lineup.”
Salazar escaped damage in the top of the fourth to get a much needed shutdown inning. After two outs, Kurt Suzuki reached on an infield single off of the glove of Carlos Santana. Josmil Pinto doubled to center, but Suzuki was only able to reach third. With two on and two outs, Salazar reared back and struck out Escobar swinging to end the threat.
Cleveland tacked on some insurance for Salazar in the bottom of the fifth. Gomes, struggling with the glove and his arm behind the plate, made up for it with a no-doubter to the bleachers in left. His fourth home run of the season gave the Tribe a 3-1 lead.
The Twins threatened in the seventh and ended the night of the Indians right-hander Salazar. After a pop up to second, Pinto singled to right. A double off of the wall in left center by Escobar put a pair in scoring position and brought Francona out from the dugout with pinch-hitter Danny Santana stepping to the plate. Bryan Shaw, who closed out Tuesday’s win, came in and gave up an RBI-single to center to cut the advantage to 3-2. The RBI was the first of the career for Santana. A sacrifice fly from Dozier to right tied the game at three. After an infield single, Shaw induced a fielder’s choice grounder that was played on a big hop by a diving Aviles for the force at second to end the inning.
Salazar was charged with three runs on six hits in six and one-third innings. He walked one and struck out seven. He threw 57 of 90 pitches for strikes and threw first pitch strikes to 16 of the 26 batters he faced.
“They were making some hard outs,” said Francona regarding his decision to remove Salazar. “I thought we got to a point that Shaw could get them and would get them, and he didn’t, and that’s on me.”
Nolasco was finished after six. He allowed three runs on six hits, walked one, and struck out nine in his first start since a complete game loss against Baltimore. He was replaced on the mound by Jared Burton, who worked a scoreless seventh.
John Axford (1-3) earned the win after working a scoreless ninth in his first outing since giving up the deciding run in the tenth on Monday night. He gave up a two-out double to Santana and walked Dozier before getting a pop out in foul ground to third.
With their fifth consecutive quality start, Indians starters have posted a 1.29 ERA and have allowed the opposition to bat just .179 during that span.
“It definitely makes a big difference. They’re going out there, they’re pitching deep into the games,” said Aviles. “Unfortunately we haven’t been able to win all those games. They’ve definitely given us an opportunity to win those games.”
The Indians bullpen had stranded 51 of the 60 inherited baserunners coming in to tonight’s game before Shaw allowed both runners he claimed in the seventh to score.
Cabrera broke an 0-for-13 slide at the plate with a sixth inning single.
“When you’re scuffling somewhere, if you can pick it up somewhere else, it makes you feel better,” said Francona. “If you’re just worried about your at bats, it makes the game harder. Everyone wants to hit .300. But when you can go out there and do other things, it not only helps you, it helps the team. It just works.”
The Indians (15-19) keep pace with the victorious Detroit Tigers, who won their eighth straight game during the evening. The Twins (15-17) were unable to pull back to even and remain six games in back of the Tigers.
The rubber match of the four-game midweek series will take place at 12:05 PM Thursday afternoon. Justin Masterson (1-1, 4.01 ERA) will start the game for Cleveland. He is coming off of his first win of the season in his last outing, but is 3-7 lifetime against Minnesota with a 4.47 ERA in 22 games. Kevin Correia (1-3, 6.09) earned his first win of the year in his last inning after allowing one run over seven innings. He is 1-2 in three career starts against Cleveland but has lost both of his starts at Progressive Field.
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Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images