Perhaps last night’s rain out against the Minnesota Twins came at exactly the right time for a Cleveland Indians squad that had been scuffling at the plate in recent games.
Having played 15 straight days going into Wednesday and in a stretch in which they would play 30 days in a row, thanks to prior rain outs, the Indians were looking like a team that was gassed. The Tribe had scored four runs or less in 10 of its last 11 games and entered the first game of Wednesday’s double header at Progressive Field having lost two straight and being in danger of falling out of postseason contention.
Following the unexpected night off, Cleveland’s bats woke up in a huge way in the afternoon tilt with the Twins. Combined with another strong outing from ace Corey Kluber, the Indians routed the visitors by a score of 8-2.
Minnesota scored the first run of the game, as well as the last. In between, it was all Cleveland.
The Tribe pounded out 10 hits, including a pair of home runs and a double. Kluber, after an early hiccup, coasted in going 8 and 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs, striking out seven batters and walking none. He improved to 15-9 and saw his ERA fall to 2.45.
It was complete thumping for the Cleveland’s offense, which got to Twins starter Kyle Gibson early and never let him have much breathing room. Gibson lasted just three innings, allowing seven earned runs.
After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the first, the Indians came right back in the home half of the frame. Michael Brantley drew a two-out walk. That was followed by Carlos Santana delivering his 26th homer of the year. It gave the Tribe 2-1 edge that they never looked back from. It be came 3-1 ball game when Yan Gomes hammered his 18th tater of the season in the second inning.
The Tribe made the game a no-doubter with a four-run seventh that chased Gibson from the game. Brantley put Cleveland up 4-1 on a base hit, earning his 91st RBI of the season. Gomes later added a two-run double. A sacrifice fly by Lonnie Chisenhall closed the scoring on Gibson.
“It’s always a good feeling when you’re not playing from behind,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “We kept swinging and did a really good job because Gibson has been tough on us.”
It was plenty of runs for Kluber, though the Indians added one more tally for good measure in the sixth when Brantley singled home his second run of the day and 92nd of the campaign.
Of course, Kluber was not going to complain about the outburst of runs. Crooked numbers when Kluber pitches are a rare sight. The Indians had scored three runs or less in each of his past six starts and eight of his previous nine. Francona said pitching with the lead early allowed Kluber to simply throw his best stuff over the plate.
“You could see where he was getting to a point where he was just pounding the (strike) zone,” Francona said. “You’ve got to pitch and get people out and he’s good anyway, but when he has that wiggle room he just pounds the zone.
“Every other game, it seems, he doesn’t have that wiggle room to make mistakes,” the Tribe skipper added. “He continues to grind through and get outs. He’s made a lot of high pressure pitches in those innings he has no margin for error.”
Kluber had that margin for error and dominated from the second inning, on. He was given the opportunity to close the game himself, entering the ninth inning. However, after getting a one-out fielder’s choice, Kluber seemed to run out of gas. The next two Twins hitters singled, plating Minnesota’s second run. Kluber left the game and rookie lefty Kyle Crockett notched the final two outs, facing two batters and closing out the game.
That the Indians only had to use one reliever for 2/3 innings was just what Francona hoped for when he used his ace in Game 1. It saved the full complement of the bullpen for the second game.
“That was exactly what you hoped for,” Francona said of Kluber’s lengthy outing.
The win improved Cleveland’s record to 75-69, now five games behind Kansas City for first place in the American League Central Division and four games behind Detroit for the second Wild Card. The Indians have Game 2 of their double header already in progress. The Tigers are off today and the Royals will play this evening in Boston.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images