Series in mid-June can rarely be deemed must-win series, but this weekend’s matchup between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins had the potential to be a statement set for either of the two clubs. Through the first two games, the Indians can claim to have made the loudest noise as Jose Ramirez and Bradley Zimmer each drove in four runs as Cleveland took game one of Saturday’s doubleheader with Minnesota, 9-3, from Target Field.
Having to rely on a pair of arms from the minor leagues to complete the day’s double dip, the Indians started the first half of a long day of baseball the right way as the Cleveland offense paced second-year left-hander Ryan Merritt to an early lead and expanded that advantage in the middle frames for a big win.
Left-hander Adam Wilk took the mound for the Twins, looking for his first win in his 13th MLB appearance in a career dating back to 2011. The 29-year-old looked like he was breezing through the first inning with two quick outs, but that changed quickly as Ramirez got ahead of the count 3-0, saw the count go full, and then cleared the wall in right with a solo home run to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. Wilk then got himself into trouble, walking Edwin Encarnacion on four straight pitches before a single to left by Carlos Santana. Austin Jackson fell behind 0-2 before seeing four straight balls to load the bases for Zimmer, who delivered a clutch two-out two-run single to right to score Encarnacion and Santana to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead.
Zimmer came up big for a second straight at bat in the third with another two-out hit against a left-hander. Encarnacion walked again to start the inning before Wilk retired Santana on a grounder and Jackson on a fly out. After working the count full, Zimmer doubled to right, driving home Encarnacion from second to make it a four-run edge for the Tribe.
Merritt ran into some trouble in the third as Ehire Adrianza singled to start the inning. He was forced out at second on a grounder by Chris Gimenez, but the former Tribe backstop advanced to second safely on an error by Erik Gonzalez. Brian Dozier then put the Twins on the board with an RBI-single to center to make it a 4-1 game.
The Indians responded quickly in the fourth to knock Wilk out of the game. Gonzalez singled and Jason Kipnis doubled him to third on the first two pitches of the inning. Daniel Robertson grounded out to short for the first out before Ramirez laced a two-run double to right to score the pair and send manager Paul Molitor to the mound to retrieve his starter. Encarnacion was walked on four straight, his third walk in three trips, before Santana grounded out to first for the second out. With two in scoring position against Alex Wimmers, Jackson struck out swinging to leave the pair, but the Indians had responded to push the lead to 6-1.
Three straight two-out hits by the Twins in the fourth cut into their deficit. Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton each singled to left before Adrianza doubled to left center, driving home both teammates to make it a 6-3 game in what would be Merritt’s final inning of work on the day.
Zach McAllister came in from the bullpen to fire two strong innings of relief, walking one along the way in the fifth and sixth innings. While he was the pitcher of record, the Indians tacked on two more for good measure as Ramirez started the sixth with a leadoff homer, becoming just the ninth Indians player in club history to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. The Tribe would not be done in the inning, although Wimmers was done for the afternoon, replaced by Buddy Boshers. Encarnacion flied to right before Santana walked, Jackson singled, and Zimmer grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Santana scoring on the play and Jackson forced at second. Roberto Perez struck out to end the inning, but the Indians had an 8-3 lead.
Bryan Shaw worked the seventh, striking out a pair, while Dan Otero notched a strikeout in a quick eighth. The Indians added a run in the top of the ninth against Matt Belisle with yet another big two-out hit as Gonzalez singled to right and Kipnis doubled. Gonzalez scored on a fielding error by the right fielder Robbie Grossman as the unearned run and non-RBI made it a 9-3 game.
Otero worked the final frame, giving up a one-out single to Rosario before striking out Buxton and getting Adrianza to fly to Zimmer in center to end it.
The win tied the Indians (34-31) for the top spot in the American League Central Division as the Twins’ (34-31) home woes continue. Minnesota is just 14-22 at Target Field this season. The Indians have taken five straight at the Twins’ home.
With his two innings of scoreless relief, McAllister earned his first win of the season while Wilk took his first loss with the Twins after being added to the roster as the 26th man for the day’s two games. Merritt worked four innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits with a pair of strikeouts.
Ramirez paced the Indians with three extra base hits and four RBI on the afternoon, giving him three straight games with three hits. Zimmer drove in four on two hits and a fielder’s choice. Kipnis and Gonzalez added three hits a piece for the Tribe.
Game two is scheduled for an 8:10 PM ET first pitch on Saturday night. The Indians will add right-hander Mike Clevinger (2-3, 4.09 ERA) as the 26th man for the second game. He will look to end a personal two-game losing streak in his first start for the Indians since June 6 in Colorado. The Twins will send their third left-hander of the series to the mound in Adalberto Mejia (1-2, 5.75). The 23-year-old is coming off of his worst start of the season, when he allowed nine runs (eight earned) on nine hits in three and two-thirds innings in his second consecutive start against the Seattle Mariners.
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