Shane Bieber pitched another gem for the Indians in a playoff atmosphere and the Cleveland bats beat up on Minnesota starting pitching again as the Tribe rolled to a 6-2 win on Friday night.
A big needed victory for the Indians moved the club to 70-46, matching the Twins for the top record in the American League Central for the first time since April 26. In doing so, they officially trimmed the deficit in the division that once sat at 11.5 games all the way to zero, with two games remaining in the four-game set from Target Field this weekend. The Indians have won four in a row and seven of their last eight games, while the Twins have dropped four straight. The Tribe is now 40-16 since sitting at the .500 mark on June 4, when they started their first home series of the season against the Twins.
Cleveland took an early lead in the second against rookie left-hander Devin Smeltzer, but it was a five-run fifth inning that decided the contest. Jose Ramirez worked a walk with one out and moved to second on a balk. Roberto Perez struck out swinging for the second out before Jason Kipnis kept the inning alive with a seven-pitch free pass. Franmil Reyes fell behind in the count 0-2 before dropping in an RBI-double to left to put the Indians up, 1-0.
Bieber gave up a two-out walk in the first before a perfect second. He ran into some trouble in the third, when Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco each singled after Bieber struck out the first two men of the inning, but Bieber recovered to strike out Miguel Sano swinging to keep it a one-run game. Marwin Gonzalez recorded the third hit of the day for the Twins with a one-out single in the fourth, but Bieber got a fielder’s choice force at second before striking out C.J. Cron swinging.
The Indians broke the game open with a decisive fifth frame to knock out the rookie Smeltzer. Greg Allen reached on an infield single and after a strikeout by Francisco Lindor, Oscar Mercado singled to put on a pair. Carlos Santana made it a 2-0 game with a first pitch RBI-single to center and with runners on the corners, Yasiel Puig drove in another with a single to right to make it 3-0. Ramirez got ahead in the count 2-0 before screaming a double to left that scored Santana to give Cleveland a 4-0 edge. That was it for Smeltzer, as Twins skipper Rocco Baldelli turned to his bullpen for Tyler Duffey, but he was unable to slow the bleeding as Perez singled to left to score Puig. Kipnis sent a sacrifice fly to right-center to score Ramirez with ease for the fifth run of the frame before Duffey struck out Reyes to end the rally.
The Twins got on the board in the bottom of the frame with a small response offering. Catcher Jason Castro caught an 0-2 fastball and drove it over the wall in left to make it a 6-1 contest. Minnesota made it 6-2 the next inning as Eddie Rosario sent a first pitch curveball over the right field wall to cut the deficit to four at 6-2.
Bieber came back out for the seventh after the Indians stranded two runners in the top half of the inning. He struck out Castro for the first out before Jake Cave singled to right. Bieber put the exclamation point on his stellar performance by striking out Kepler and Polanco swinging. He returned for the eighth and walked Sano, but Oliver Perez got the next three hitters to prevent a Twins scoring threat. Nick Goody pitched the ninth, giving up a single to Cave with two outs before striking out Kepler swinging.
Bieber worked seven quality innings as he improved to 12-4 on the season. He allowed two runs on a pair of solo homers and gave up seven hits and two walks, but he kept the Twins away from scoring position for the majority of the night. He struck out eleven Twins batters in a 108-pitch performance that included 74 strikes.
Smeltzer lost for the second time in his career as he was unable to complete five innings on the bump. He allowed six runs on seven hits, walking three and striking out four as he continued a bad stretch from the Twins rotation. Randy Dobnak, making his Major League debut for the Twins on Friday night, kept the Indians off of the scoreboard over the final four innings, scattering six hits to keep the deficit at four while giving his team a fighting chance to stay in the game.
The Indians had ample opportunity to put up more runs on the night, but six served as plenty. The bats were 5-for-14 with runners in scoring position, but stranded ten men in the game. Cleveland had four mulit-hit games on the lineup card, including three-hit days from Puig and Ramirez. Puig is now hitting .333 in his time with the Indians, while Ramirez remained just one RBI in back of the team leader Santana as the pair both drove in a run on the day. Reyes and Perez each ended long hitless droughts at the plate.
The two home runs for the Twins were record-breaking. Castro’s 15th of the year tied the team’s franchise record for homers in a season at 225, and Rosario’s 25th the next inning gave them a new all-time best at 226, breaking their mark set in 1963.
Before the game, the Twins placed veteran DH Nelson Cruz on the 10-day injured list with a ruptured tendon in his left wrist, suffered in Thursday night’s loss on a swing.
Game three of four from Target Field is scheduled for an 8:10 PM ET first pitch on Saturday night. All-Star Jake Odorizzi (12-5, 3.61 ERA) will look to end the Twins’ recent losing ways and is coming off of back-to-back one-run outings. Adam Plutko (4-2, 4.55) will counter for the Indians.
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