Time may be expiring on Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin, but it is not on the Indians and their pursuit of the postseason as a terrific job by the Tribe bullpen sent the Minnesota Twins to a 12th consecutive loss on Wednesday night, 5-4.
Things felt bleak in the early going for the Indians as their scuffling offense was put in a big hole just two innings into the game. It took just one pitch from Tomlin to make things feel uneasy.
Brian Dozier led off the first and deposited the first pitch he saw into the left field bleachers, as Tomlin’s home run problems continued. Joe Mauer doubled to left and moved to third on a grounder by Trevor Plouffe before Miguel Sano singled him home and the Twins very quickly had a 2-0 lead.
Rajai Davis doubled to lead off the bottom half against Twins starter Andrew Albers, making his first start since 2013. Davis was erased on a questionable caught stealing call at third before Jason Kipnis parked a solo homer just over the wall in right to cut the Twins lead in half. Francisco Lindor would follow with a triple and Carlos Santana would walk one out later to put runners on the corners for the dangerous Jose Ramirez, but he flied to right to end the threat.
The Twins struck right back with some clutch two-out hitting. Eddie Rosario led off the second with a single and moved to second on a one-out single from Logan Schafer. Dozier struck out swinging, but Mauer singled to left to score Rosario. Plouffe followed with an RBI-single of his own and Tomlin was taken out of the game, having retired just five batters on the night. Reliever Shawn Armstrong got a big force out at second to minimize the Twins rally at a 4-1 score.
The game was far from over, however, as the Indians responded with more runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Abraham Almonte doubled to right and Chris Gimenez walked to bring up Davis for his second at bat in the first two innings. After busting a lengthy slump late in Monday’s game, Davis got his second big hit in as many innings as he lifted a three-run homer over the wall in left to tie the game at four.
Armstrong loaded the bases in the third, allowing a walk, single, and another walk with one out, but Dan Otero came through with a key double play ball as Schafer lined right back at Otero, who caught the ball in self-defense and lobbed back to second for the third out, as Rosario was gone from the bag on contact.
The Indians followed the same story line in their at bats in the bottom of the third as Mike Napoli singled to right and Santana walked to end Albers’ night. Alex Wimmers came on and struck out Ramirez before walking Brandon Guyer to load the bases. But just as his counterpart Otero had done, Wimmers got a big double play as Almonte grounded to second to start a 4-6-3 twin-killing.
While the Cleveland bullpen was only beginning its run of three straight 1-2-3 innings, the Indians got to Wimmers in the fourth with what turned out to be the deciding run of the night. Gimenez walked to lead off but was thrown out at third on a single to left by Davis. Kipnis walked and Lindor came through with a double to center. Davis scored on the play but the aggressive Indians lost out on another run as Kipnis was thrown out trying to score at home. Pat Light took over for Paul Molitor’s club and walked Napoli on five pitches before getting Santana to lift the first pitch he saw into center to end the inning.
Over the next three innings, the Twins’ bullpen shut down the Tribe in similar fashion to Cleveland’s own, allowing just a leadoff walk to Gimenez in the sixth.
Bryan Shaw did his usual tightrope act in the seventh inning, but escaped after allowing a leadoff walk to DozIer and a one-out single to Plouffe. He struck out Sano and got a big grounder from Max Kepler to first to end the inning. Andrew Miller relieved Shaw with one out in the eighth and retired five of the six batters that he faced over the final one and two-thirds innings of work to earn his 12th save of the season.
That notably poor record by the Indians (75-56) against the Twins is starting to even itself out, as they pulled to 7-8 against Minnesota this season with four games left to play. They once again managed to maintain their four and a half game lead over the Detroit Tigers, who came back again against the Chicago White Sox. The third place Kansas City Royals lost in extra innings at home to the New York Yankees to fall to six and a half games behind the Tribe. The Twins (49-83) were once again denied in their attempt to win their 50th win of the 2016 season. They have now lost 12 straight games, their longest losing streak of the season.
BULLPEN SAVES THE DAY
Five different relievers took the mound as the Indians inch closer to the roster expansion on Thursday. Armstrong worked two-thirds of an inning and was the shakiest of the bunch, giving up a hit and two walks. Otero (4-1, 1.25 ERA) got the win behind two and two-thirds innings of shutout baseball while striking out three and dropping his already teeny tiny ERA to 1.25. McAllister worked a perfect inning, while Shaw and Miller both parts of two innings each on the night.
TOMLIN CAN’T GET THROUGH TWO
Much has been said about the reasons for the struggles for Tomlin for the Tribe, but at the end of the day, he continues to fail to put the Indians in a position to win.
He threw batting practice to the Twins in one and two-thirds innings of work on Tuesday, giving up four runs on seven hits with another homer allowed and two strikeouts. He threw 28 of 41 pitches for strikes, including eight for first pitch strikes to the 12 batters that he faced, but he was once again unable to keep the ball in the yard and the runs off the scoreboard while putting undue stress on the bullpen at the tail end of a lengthy set of games played.
Indians manager Terry Francona implied after the game that with the off-day on Thursday, the coaching staff could consider juggling some things in the rotation.
“Whatever move he makes I understand,” Tomlin said. “I’m struggling. I know I’m struggling. I take full ownership of that. It’s my fault. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m anxious to get back here tomorrow and try to figure it out. Whatever he has to do, I get it.”
ALBERS ROUGHED UP IN FIRST START
Albers made his third appearance of the season and his first start since 2013 when he was previously with the Twins organization. After being given a handful of early runs, he let the Indians right back into the game and was unable to retire a batter in the third. He worked two-plus innings, allowing four runs on six hits with a pair of homers, three walks and two strikeouts.
Guyer was hit by a pitch from Taylor Rogers in the top of the eighth, the 29th pitch that he has been hit by this season. It nearly added a big insurance run to the scoreboard as he would move to second on a single from Gimenez and would steal third before Davis struck out and Kipnis grounded out.
He has now been hit by pitch four times in the last four games. With his sixth hit by pitch since joining the Indians at the trade deadline, he took over the team lead in his 20th game with the club.
McALLISTER PLUNKED…BY LINE DRIVE
McAllister made a highlight reel play in the sixth inning while facing Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki. With one out and a 1-1 count, the veteran lined the ball off of McAllister. The ball ricocheted into the air and McAllister snagged it in his glove hand for the second out.
“I don’t know if that caught him or he caught it,” said Francona. “I know he’s going to have a bruise on his calf, but he’ll take it.”
GIMENEZ REACHES ALL FOUR TRIPS
Gimenez, who has been hitting and seeing the ball much better of late at the plate, was 1-for-1 with a single and three walks on Tuesday.
CRISP COMING HOME?
Reports circulated throughout the evening that the Indians and Oakland Athletics had struck a deal that would send former Tribe outfielder Coco Crisp back to Cleveland. There were no official confirmations from either club, nor any of the other details that would be involved in the transaction.
The Indians will go for their first sweep of the Twins this season on Wednesday night and will send their ace to the mound with broom in hand.
Corey Kluber (14-8, 3.07) will look to keep his own winning streak going strong on the mound. He is 6-0 in his last nine starts and has not lost since July 3. Rookie left-hander Pat Dean will look to end the Twins losing skid while making his eighth career start and 13th MLB appearance overall.
Game time for the series finale from Progressive Field is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images