Three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning gave the Cleveland Indians a little extra cushion in a 5-1 win over the Texas Rangers in game two of Wednesday’s doubleheader.
The Indians got big contributions from a pair of new faces and two other steadily improving veterans on the lineup card as Cleveland’s stellar bullpen allowed just one run on four hits to shut down the Texas offense on a day that the Rangers combined to score just one run over 18 innings of day baseball.
Cleveland drew a tough matchup against Texas right-hander Lance Lynn, who was perfect in limited career work against the Indians and was in the midst of a stellar season on the mound for the Rangers. He gave the Rangers a deep quality start while giving his team a chance to win, but a poor offensive showing and the bullpen behind him allowed the two runs that he surrendered over seven innings to cost him a defeat.
Tyler Clippard served as the opener for the Tribe as faced the minimum in the first two frames. He struck out the side swinging in the second on just eleven pitches.
The Tribe rewarded Clippard’s impressive efforts with an early lead. After a three-pitch strikeout of Yasiel Puig by Lynn, Jose Ramirez homered for the second time on the day, driving a first pitch four-seamer to right to put the Indians up, 1-0.
Hunter Wood came on for Clippard and retired the side in order before the Indians threatened again in the third. Greg Allen singled to open the inning, but he was caught stealing second. Kevin Plawecki and Francisco Lindor worked back-to-back walks before Tyler Naquin flied to left. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch before Carlos Santana drew a five-pitch free pass to load the bases, but Puig, after fouling off three different pitches, was cut down on a high fastball to leave the bases loaded.
Wood returned for the fourth and worked around a runner in scoring position. Shin-Soo Choo singled to center, but was forced at second on a grounder by Danny Santana. He reached safely and moved to second on a throwing error on the play by Lindor. Wood worked out of the jam by striking out Elvis Andrus and getting Nomar Mazara to pop to short.
After Lynn retired the side in the fourth, both clubs got into a habit of squandering base runners. Willie Calhoun greeted A.J. Cole with a single to left, but Cole got a double play grounder to escape the inning. Lynn replicated Cole’s performance, forcing out Allen at second after his leadoff single in the bottom of the fifth. Isiah Kiner-Falefa started the sixth the same way with a second-pitch single to start the inning before a Jeff Mathis grounder to third went around the horn for another double play.
Cole left the pitching slab after retiring the first two batters of the seventh, while Oliver Perez came on and struck out Mazara to end the inning.
The Indians expanded on their lead after the seventh inning stretch. Jason Kipnis doubled to right-center and moved to third on a passed ball by Mathis. Franmil Reyes drove in his second run with the Indians with a sacrifice fly to right to make it a 2-0 lead.
That run loomed large in the next half inning as Calhoun took Perez’s second pitch of the inning over the wall in right to cut the Rangers’ deficit to 2-1. Perez struck out Rougned Odor for the first out of the inning and Nick Wittgren got the next two, including pinch-hitter and 2019 All-Star Hunter Pence.
Cleveland opened up the game in the bottom of the eighth against reliever Jesse Chavez with the biggest inning of the day. Lindor laced a double down the right field line. After Naquin popped to third, Santana doubled Lindor home with a double of his own to right to make it 3-1. Puig, after two strikeouts and a hit by pitch in his first three plate appearances of the day, worked the count from 0-2 to 3-2 before singling to left to knock in Santana before he was thrown out trying to advance to second on the play. Ramirez doubled to right for the third double of the frame to keep the inning alive and Kipnis followed with a two-base hit off of Shawn Kelley to make it a 5-1 ball game. Oscar Mercado was unable to join the hit parade as he flied to right to end the inning.
Wittgren remained on the mound, looking for his third save of the season with a four-run lead (after coming on in the one-run game the previous inning). He struck out pinch-hitter Delino DeShields for the first out before Choo and Santana were retired on outs in the air, with the latter being robbed of extra bases on a nice catch in left-center by Mercado.
Coupled with a Minnesota loss, the Indians (68-46) pulled back within two games of the Twins in the American League Central. Texas moved to 58-56 with back-to-back losses on Wednesday.
Cole was given the win for the Tribe as the pitcher of record in the sixth. He worked two and two-thirds innings, the longest outing of the five Indians relievers to take the mound in game two. He allowed a pair of hits but struck out two while throwing 21 of 30 pitches for strikes. He improved to 3-1 on the season with his scoreless outing.
Lynn took a tough luck loss for the Rangers on Wednesday to move to 14-7 on the year. He allowed just two runs (one of which was earned) on four hits total. He walked three batters and hit one while striking out eight. He stayed on the mound for seven innings and threw 120 pitches (73 for strikes).
Cleveland had a well-balanced attack from the middle of the lineup. Each hitter from Santana in the three-hole to Reyes in the seven-spot contributed an RBI. Ramirez, Kipnis, and Allen each had two hits and Ramirez scored a pair of runs while driving in his 60 RBI and hitting his 16th home run of the season and his second blast of the day between the two games.
With a key series win out of the way and the division gap down to two, the Indians will head to Target Field for a significant in-season series against the first place Twins. Mike Clevinger (6-2, 3.07 ERA) will get the starting nod for the Tribe, looking to reduce the divisional deficit to one game. Right-hander Kyle Gibson (11-4, 4.02) will throw for Minnesota in the 8:10 PM ET start on Thursday.
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