After 106 games, the Cleveland Indians have failed to lose four games in a row. They dodged another bullet on Thursday afternoon with a balanced attack, strong pitching, and plenty of offensive support to end a three-game bender as the Tribe knocked off the Minnesota Twins by a 9-2 score.
Mike Clevinger, tasked with the unenviable job of doing what Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer could not do before him, gave the Indians nearly five innings of stability on the mound. He handed the ball off to the bullpen and manager Terry Francona’s relief arms got the job done with four and two-thirds inning of no-hit baseball.
Clevinger got the early support that has been lacking from the Indians offense for much of the homestand, as Cleveland jumped out to a lead in the bottom of the first against new Minnesota starter and former All-Star Hector Santiago.
After Rajai Davis worked an eleven pitch at bat against Santiago to start the home half, Jason Kipnis drove the second offering of his at bat deep to center, landing in the Indians bullpen to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead. It was just the third time during the nine-game homestand that the Indians scored first.
Clevinger worked through the second with ease but walked a tight rope act in the third. Kurt Suzuki led off the inning with a walk and Brian Dozier singled to left one out later. Joe Mauer loaded the bases with a base hit to left, but Max Kepler’s big week did not help him as he flied into a double play, with Davis firing back to first to double up Mauer.
Momentum swung the Indians way on the big defensive play. In the bottom half, Francisco Lindor singled to center with two outs, moved to second on a walk by Mike Napoli, and both scored on a three-run blast to left by Carlos Santana to give the Indians a four-run advantage.
A leadoff double by Miguel Sano turned into a run in the fourth as the Twins got on the board. A walk by Kennys Vargas was followed by a strikeout of Eduardo Escobar. Former Indian Robbie Grossman grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Vargas out at second on the force, before Suzuki singled to center to drive in Sano.
The fifth got off to a bad start for Clevinger and the game could have gotten away from the Indians had it not been for the quality relief work on the day. Dozier homered to left to make it a 4-2 game. Mauer singled and Kepler followed with a single of his own to right, but Mauer was thrown out trying to advance to third. A walk by Sano put two on with only one out, prompting a pitching change as Francona brought on Dan Otero. In another high pressure situation, he struck out Vargas looking and got Escobar to fly to center to escape unharmed.
Cleveland added three more in the seventh off of the third pitcher of the day for the Twins, Michael Tonkin. With two outs in the inning, Davis singled to center, stole second, then stole third and scored on a wild pitch from Tonkin. Kipnis walked before Lindor lifted a two-run homer to right-center to make it a 7-2 score.
Jose Ramirez made it a six-run game with a solo homer to lead off the eighth against reliever Tommy Milone. The Indians made it 9-2 later in the inning as Brandon Guyer doubled and came around to score on a single to left by Davis.
The Indians (61-45) salvaged the series and the homestand with the well-rounded victory on Thursday, giving them a 5-4 record at Progressive Field during the nine games despite the 1-3 record against the Twins (43-65) to wrap it up. They were outscored 37-25 in the four games versus Minnesota.
BULLPEN HAS A BIG DAY
The Indians used Otero (3-1, 1.60 ERA), Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Ryan Merritt to shut down the Twins after Clevinger left. The four relievers did not allow a hit and only Shaw issued a walk in four and two-thirds innings combined. Otero faced four batters and retired them all in order with one strikeout. Miller struck out three of the four batters he faced, including the left-handed Mauer and Kepler after their big series. Shaw struck out a man in the eighth and new call-up Merritt pitched a perfect ninth, finding the zone nine times out of 12 pitches.
CLEVINGER KEEPS DAMAGE TO A MINIMUM
Clevinger may not have pitched as late as the Indians may have wanted, but he got the job done, limiting the Twins to just two runs on seven hits with four walks in four and one-third innings. He struck out three on the afternoon in his fifth MLB game.
HITTING STREAKS CONTINUE
Napoli’s homer streak ended at five games, matching a career best, but he extended his hitting streak to six straight with his single in the seventh off of Tonkin.
Ramirez’s hitting streak reached nine straight with his solo homer to lead off the bottom of the eighth.
NEW CAREER HIGH
The home run in the first inning was the 18th of the season for Kipnis, a new career high. He hit 17 in his second full season in the Majors in 2013, when he made the first of two American League All-Star teams. He hit just nine last season while working out of the leadoff spot primarily and hitting .303.
SANTIAGO SOCKED IN RETURN TO AL CENTRAL
The home run ball hurt Santiago (10-5, 4.37) once again as he made his first start back in the American League Central Division as a member of the Minnesota Twins. He gave up a homer in the first to give the Indians a lead and a three-run shot in the third that proved to be too much for the Twins to overcome on the afternoon. He was charged with four runs on five hits with a pair of walks and four strikeouts. He tossed 99 pitches over five innings.
He has now given up 22 home runs on the season.
The Indians finally contained Kepler, who was limited to a single in four at bats on the day. He finished the series 8-for-16 with four two-run homers and ten RBI and drew four walks.
UNLUCKY 13 FOR DOZIER
Dozier wasted no time on Thursday to extend his hitting streak to 13 games with a third inning single and fifth inning home run. He has now hit safely in 17 of 20 games in the second half.
MAUER REACHES THREE MORE TIMES
Mauer made it four consecutive multi-hit games in the series as he had a pair of singles and a walk in four trips to the plate. He finished the series with the Indians with a .667 batting average (12-for-18) with eight runs scored and six RBI.
Former Indians utility man Michael Martinez, who was purchased by the Boston Red Sox on July 8, was reacquired by Cleveland in a waiver claim.
Left-handed reliever Tyler Olson, who had been pitching for Triple-A Columbus, was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Martinez. A corresponding 25-man roster move will need to occur to bring Martinez back to the playing roster.
The Indians formally announced prior to the game the additions of starting pitchers Clevinger and Merritt from Triple-A Columbus. As expected and leaked Wednesday night, Shawn Armstrong and Cody Anderson were both optioned back to the Clippers roster.
Their nine-game homestand over with, the Indians will hit the road for the Big Apple, playing three games over the weekend against the New York Yankees.
Friday’s game is scheduled for a 7:05 PM ET start.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images