Would you believe it if I told you that the Cleveland Indians — who were once 11-and-a-half games back in the division — are now just one game out?
Over the last two months — what appeared to be an uninspired and flat club has pulled together through trades and group texts and has charged toward their division foe — despite dropping two of three to them in their last series in Cleveland.
But for game one in Minnesota, the Tribe held on to a 7-5 lead to take the series opener on Thursday with three left to play during this road trip.
Mike Clevinger was awarded the win for the club going seven innings with nine strikeouts, one walk, and allowing two earned runs.
Kyle Gibson would be the losing pitcher for the Twins, throwing more balls (43) than strikes (42) on the night.
“I think my fastball command was the thing that struggled the most, especially in the fourth and fifth as I just got my body a little bit too involved in trying to really create a little bit of movement, create a little bit of velocity, knowing that it kind of was emptying the tank a little bit,” Gibson said.
If you didn’t know this coming into the series, the Twins do not go down without a fight, and the Tribe experienced that tonight. The Tribe was first on the board in the second inning after Yasiel Puig leadoff with a triple and later scored on an errant throw to first on Gibson’s pickoff move.
Then, the club tacked on another three runs in the fourth, but allowed the Twins to put up two in the home half to cut the lead to 4-2.
In the fifth, the Tribe plated two more when Francisco Lindor leadoff the inning with a single. Carlos Santana worked a one-out walk, and Puig followed suit. Jose Ramirez then doubled to right, knocking in two.
Ramirez and Jason Kipnis continued to show their veteran savvy, leading the club with two hits a piece and knocking in three and two runs, respectively.
But, the Twins tacked on three in the eighth to once again cut the deficit to 6-5 and put the pressure back on the Tribe.
Despite all of that, the ballclub had just seven hits on the night, but Tyler Naquin’s homerun in the 9th gave them a big insurance run heading into the home half of the inning on the road.
Indians closer Brad Hand was struggling to find his command and allowed three to reach in the bottom of the ninth but was able to squeak out of it without any damage for the save.
The players weren’t the only ones who felt the pressure during the game that lasted three hours and thirty-nine minutes.
When asked how he felt during the game, Indians manager Terry Francona said with a laugh, “You know what, I’m trying to figure that out right now if I had fun or not,” and continued, “Because I couldn’t even breathe, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Now, the Tribe looks to Shane Bieber to lead the way for Friday’s game as he enters with a 3.31 ERA, 182 strikeouts, and 0.98 WHIP on the year. Bieber has gone the distance in two of his last three starts — winning both games he completed.
Devin Smeltzer, a lefty, will be toeing the rubber for the Twins, making just his fourth start for the club. Smeltzer has appeared in five games already on the season, with a 1-1 record, 2.28 ERA, and 21 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched.
Things to Know for Friday’s Game
Franmil Reyes is still looking to find his swing as he has just two hits in 24 at-bats for his new team in the month of August.
Nelson Cruz exited the game for the Twins during his second at-bat in the fourth inning when he re-injured his wrist while swinging. No information has yet been made available on his status but there should be an update sometime Friday before the game.
The Indians have improved to 69-46 and have won three straight. If they win Friday’s game, they will be tied for first place in the AL Central after not occupying first since April 26.