Home field advantage has not applied to Target Field for the Minnesota Twins when facing the Cleveland Indians this season. The Tribe improved to 9-0 in Minneapolis this season behind a 9-3 victory in game one of a day-night doubleheader on Thursday afternoon.
The game was a bit closer than the final score indicated, as the Indians tacked on six runs in the final two frames to blow open the contest. Carlos Carrasco worked around some early difficulties and five relievers had to combine to close out the game, temporarily making things close in the bottom of the seventh before the bats came to the rescue.
Cleveland took the lead in the first inning, beating up on Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson. Back-to-back singles by Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis started the inning and Jose Ramirez reached on an error by third baseman Miguel Sano. After Edwin Encarnacion lined to short for the first out, Jay Bruce gave the Indians the lead with a two-run single to center. Gibson worked out of the jam, but the Indians had a 2-0 lead.
Carrasco was in trouble from the first batter of his afternoon, needing nearly 40 pitches to get three outs. A lengthy at bat by Brian Dozier resulted in a leadoff walk and singles by Max Kepler and Joe Mauer loaded the bases with still nobody out. Carrasco, however, showed the moxie that makes him a front of the rotation pitcher, striking out Sano and Eddie Rosario swinging before inducing a grounder to first by Eduardo Escobar to leave it a two-run game.
Kipnis delivered a big hit in the second inning with two men out. Yan Gomes singled after Gibson retired the first out and moved to second on a wild pitch, putting him in scoring position for Kipnis, who delivered with a single to center to push the Indians’ lead to 3-0.
Byron Buxton started the Twins’ half of the second by jumping on the first pitch from Carrasco and sending it over the wall deep to left field for a solo shot. Carrasco got the inning that he needed afterwards, using just nine pitches to get the next three outs, keeping it a 3-1 game.
Both pitchers settled in after the early scoring. Carrasco struck out the side swinging in the third and got the first two batters in the fourth to give him five consecutive strikeouts. Gibson kept the Indians off of the scoreboard as well.
The Indians threatened to break open the game in the fifth, delivering a knockout blow to Gibson. Giovanny Urshela singled and Encarnacion walked to start the inning, bringing Dillon Gee on in relief. He got three straight outs, stranding runners on the corners and keeping the score at 3-1.
Carrasco was finished after five with an inflated pitch count after the rough first. Bryan Shaw pitched a strong first inning of relief, striking out three around a two-out single by Rosario, but he could not escape the seventh. He walked Buxton after getting ahead in the count 1-2 and that free pass immediately cost him as Jorge Polanco tripled on the next pitch to make it a one-run game with the tying run 90 feet away. After getting a strikeout of Jason Castro and a grounder to Urshela at third for the second out, Tyler Olson entered and struck out pinch-hitter Robbie Grossman to dodge a major bullet.
Buddy Boshers returned to the mound for the Twins after retiring the final batter in the top of the seventh, but the Indians quickly built a rally in the eighth. Carlos Santana singled to start things off and moved to third on a double from Brandon Guyer. Bradley Zimmer grounded to second, where Dozier threw to the plate and erased Santana for the first out. Ryan Pressly came on in relief and got two strikes across against Gomes, but the third pitch was blasted to center for a three-run game-changing homer by the Tribe catcher to make it a 6-2 game. After a groundout by Lindor for the second out, Kipnis followed Gomes’ lead and homered to right, giving the Tribe a five-run lead.
The Twins were not done, however, as Mauer started the eighth with a double to chase Olson. Zach McAllister entered, but walked Sano before a single by Rosario to right. A good relay from Bruce to Kipnis to Gomes gunned down Mauer at the plate for the first out. McAllister next entered into a lengthy battle with Escobar, with the latter winning it with an RBI-double to center, putting two in scoring position. McAllister struck out Buxton looking, bringing manager Terry Francona to the mound again, this time for Cody Allen. The Tribe closer struck out Polanco to strand a pair, leaving it a 7-3 game.
The Indians added two more in the ninth to put the game out of reach. Former All-Star closer Glen Perkins, activated Thursday morning after more than a season and a half on the disabled list with labrum issues, pitched into trouble quickly as command was an issue. He walked Encarnacion on five pitches to start the inning and two batters later, hit Santana with a pitch. Guyer singled to shallow center, scoring pinch-runner Abraham Almonte from second. A single by Zimmer ended his 0-for-August at the plate and loaded the bases for Gomes, who was plunked to force in Santana to make it 9-3. Alan Busenitz was summoned from the ‘pen and got a double play grounder from Lindor to end the inning.
No longer a save situation, Nick Goody was brought on for Allen and struck out the side to finish the contest.
The Indians improved to 66-52 with the win, moving six full games in front of the Kansas City Royals (61-59). They are 35-25 on the road this season. Minnesota dropped to 59-59 on the year and just 27-35 at home. The Twins are seven games off of the pace in the AL Central and a game and a half behind the second wild card spot.
Carrasco improved to 12-5 on the season with five innings of one-run baseball. He allowed five hits, walked one, and struck out nine while needing 94 pitches. Gibson dropped to 0-3 against the Indians this season in four starts and 6-10 on the year. He threw 97 pitches in four-plus innings of work, giving up three runs on seven hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
Gomes and Kipnis were the primary driving forces in the lineup. Gomes had three hits and drove in four runs on the afternoon. Kipnis had three hits of his own and added two RBI. Bruce drove in a pair. Guyer had two hits and Urshela did likewise, despite not starting the game.
The Indians had a scare early in the contest, when Ramirez was plunked in the right arm by a Gibson pitch in the top of the second inning and immediately left the game, appearing to be in a great deal of pain. The news was better from the clubhouse after the game, as x-rays came back negative and Francona indicated that Ramirez could be available for the nightcap.
It will be a quicker than anticipated turnaround for both clubs in what will feel more like a traditional doubleheader instead of a two-gate variety. Both teams will rely on minor league starters for game two in a 7:10 PM ET start Thursday night. Left-hander Ryan Merritt (0-0, 3.60 ERA) will take the mound for the Indians as the 26th man. Minnesota will call up 6’ 10” right-hander Aaron Slegers (13-4, 3.18 at Rochester) to make his Major League debut.
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