The final two innings gave the Indians a pretty significant scare, but Cleveland came away with a 7-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins in game one of four from Target Field on Thursday night.
Clevinger contained the dangerous and pesky Twins lineup over seven innings, giving up just five base runners in a quality start (three hits, one walk, one hit batter). He allowed a pair of runs in the four inning on a pair of RBI singles, but he was already blessed with a 4-0 lead at that point as the Indians had attacked the ineffective and wild Twins starter Kyle Gibson.
Gibson pitched a perfect first before he ran into trouble in the second. Yasiel Puig tripled to right to open the inning and Jose Ramirez followed with a walk. Jason Kipnis was cut down on strikes for the first out, but Gibson hurt his own cause on his own throwing error on a botched pickoff attempt at first that allowed Puig to score from third. Franmil Reyes grounded into a double play to end the threat.
After a quiet third inning from both sides, the Indians added on with a big inning in the fourth. Gibson lost the strike zone by walking Oscar Mercado on four pitches and Carlos Santana on five to put the first two men on. Puig grounded to short, with Santana forced out for the first out. Ramirez delivered with a big single on a 2-2 fastball to drive in Mercado to give the Indians a 2-0 lead, and Kipnis drilled the next pitch to deep center for a two-run double to double the Tribe’s lead to 4-0. Gibson walked Reyes to put two on before Roberto Perez grounded out and Tyler Naquin struck out swinging to end the three-run frame.
Clevinger struck out a batter in each of the first three innings and had allowed only a two-out double in the second by Luis Arraez. Pitching for the first time with a four-run lead, Clevinger’s own mistakes came back to haunt him. He walked Jorge Polanco on five pitches to open the inning. C.J. Cron hit for the injured Nelson Cruz and struck out swinging and Eddie Rosario grounded back to Clevinger for the second out, but the Tribe starter plunked Miguel Sano to put two on with two out. Arraez delivered with an RBI-single to right to score Polanco and Marwin Gonzalez did the same to drive in Sano to make it a 4-2 game. Clevinger stopped the bleeding, striking out Jason Castro looking to end the inning.
The Indians responded in the next half inning to get both runs back and knock Gibson off of the mound. Francisco Lindor led things off with a single to right-center and moved to second on a groundout by Mercado. Santana walked and Puig loaded them up with a five-pitch free pass on Gibson’s sixth walk of the day. Ryan Littell was summoned from the Twins bullpen by manager Rocco Baldelli, but Ramirez greeted him with a two-run double down the right field line to push the Indians lead to 6-2. Littell recovered to retire Kipnis and Reyes on outs in the air to end the inning.
Clevinger retired the final ten batters that he faced after the Twins got on the scoreboard in the fourth, including three swinging strikeouts in the bottom of the sixth. But after he left the mound still protecting a 6-2 lead, things got a little dicey for the Tribe as Adam Cimber became the first of four Indians relievers to touch the pitching slab in the bottom of the eighth. Ehire Adrianza started the rally for the Twins with an infield single. Max Kepler walked on four straight out of the zone. Polanco doubled home Adrianza to cut the score to 6-3, but Cimber got a big first out by striking out Cron. Oliver Perez came on for Cimber and got Rosario to ground to third, allowing Kepler to score but Polanco curiously got into a rundown for the second out. Nick Wittgren entered and pitched the count full before Sano drove the payoff pitch deep to left for an RBI-double to cut the score to 6-5. Manager Terry Francona turned to his closer Brad Hand for his fourth pitcher of the frame. He intentionally walked Arraez before winning a seven-pitch battle with Gonzalez, who flied out to right to leave a pair.
Hard-throwing Trevor May took over for Ryne Harper for the ninth, but two pitches into his outing, he had already blown his job. Naquin drove a 1-0 four-seamer over the wall in right for a big solo homer, getting the Indians a run back to increase their lead to 7-5.
In a big series like this one, little would come easy and Hand had to fight his way out of the ninth. After Mitch Garver grounded to short to start the inning, Adrianza and Kepler each singled, with the latter dropping in between Naquin and Ramirez, to put the tying runs on base. Polanco flied to center to move both runners up 90 feet. Cron was intentionally walked and replaced by pinch-runner Jake Cave, but Rosario flied to left to send the Twins to defeat.
Cleveland (69-46) cut the deficit in the American League Central down to one game with a needed victory in the series opener with Minnesota (70-45).
Clevinger moved to 7-2 on the season and dropped his ERA to 3.02 with a needed quality outing. He worked seven innings, allowing two runs on three hits with a walk and nine strikeouts. He threw a season-high 117 pitches and had some serious swing and miss stuff going on throughout his outing, getting 24 whiffs from Twins hitters. Hand’s save was of the four-out variety. He walked two and gave up two hits, but he most importantly allowed no one to touch the plate as he earned his 29th save of the year.
Gibson fell to 11-5 on the year with a rough outing. He worked four and one-third innings, giving up six runs (five earned) on four hits with six walks and two strikeouts. He threw less than half of his pitches (42 of 85) for strikes.
Ramirez and Kipnis continued their hot hitting with two-hit games. Ramirez drove in three runs while Kipnis knocked in a pair. Seven of nine Indians hitters drew at least one walk on the night.
Game two of the four-game set between the top two teams in the Central is scheduled for an 8:10 PM ET first pitch on Friday night. Rookie right-hander Devin Smeltzer (1-1, 2.28 ERA) will be the first man to the mound for the Twins, while Indians All-Star righty Shane Bieber (11-4, 3.31) will counter for Cleveland.
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