MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins taped together a lineup Sunday, Sept. 8, and limped into a rubber match with the Cleveland Indians that could play a large role in which team wins the American League Central.
While the Twins remain in control, the three-time defending division champs left Target Field confident they can catch first-place Minnesota after a 5-2 victory.
Down two starting pitchers and without regulars such as Nelson Cruz, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano available, the Twins were little match for Cleveland right-hander Mike Clevinger, who improved to 11-2 and with a 2.72 earned-run average in a game the Indians all but had to win to keep their division hopes alive.
“It’s big. We’re in a race with them, and just to get a ‘W’ in general and win a series,” said Indians reliever Nick Wittgren, who struck out pinch-hitter C.J. Cron and Mitch Garver with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning. “That’s kind of the goal every time you go into a series. Happy flight today, which is nice — now we’ve got to think about Anaheim.”
The Indians start a three-game series Monday against the Angels then have a day off before playing host to Minnesota for a three-game series starting Friday at Progressive Field.
The Indians, who trailed the Twins by 11 games on June 14, have won five of seven against the Twins since the all-star break to pull within 5½ games. The three-time division champions are 1½ behind the Oakland A’s for the second AL wild card spot.
“That’s not going to be a big series if we don’t win in between there,” Clevinger said. “So, again, we’ve got to take this next series like it’s going to be (against) the Twins, and then if that puts us in a good spot, that should be a pivotal spot this next go-around.”
The Twins have won 11 of their past 15 games but they’re getting thin. They lost their best starting pitcher Saturday when Michael Pineda was suspended 60 games for violating baseball’s drug policy, and injuries are piling up.
Outfielder Byron Buxton was flown to California on Sunday to see an orthopedic specialist about his separated left shoulder. Jake Cave missed his second straight game with a mild groin strain, and designated hitter Nelson Cruz was held out after aggravating his left wrist on Friday.
Kepler was pulled after one inning because of pectoral pain, and Sano was unavailable because of back soreness — which is why he didn’t pinch hit with two on and two out against closer Brad Hand in the ninth.
LaMarre, acquired from Atlanta late Saturday for cash, entered the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. The potential tying run, he stuck out looking at an inside fastball from left-hander Hand, who earned his 34th save.
“Ryan was the only right-handed hitter we had available at the time,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That’s not to say in another world we’re not hitting him. … Sano was not going to be available. He’s had some back soreness, something that has bothered him a little bit. He’s been dealing with it. He was not going to get out there under any circumstances.”
None of the Twins’ first three pitchers Sunday — Randy Dobnak (0-1), Devin Smeltzer and Cody Stashak — were on the Opening Day roster. They were tagged for a combined five earned runs on nine hits and three walks.
“We rallied, just couldn’t get all the way,” said Lamonte Wade, who drove in a run in the seventh with his first major league hit. “But guys are feeling good right now. We know we still have work to do, so we’ll regroup on the off day, get a little healthier, come back swinging on Tuesday.”
The Twins have a day off Monday before starting a three-game series against the Washington Nationals. Then it’s off to Cleveland for the biggest series of the season. Clevinger, whose major blip Sunday was a solo home run by Garver in the fourth inning, is scheduled to pitch in that series and is looking forward to it.
“I think for any athlete, that should be your mindset. That should be the way you are. That’s what I’m here to do,” he said. “I’m not just here to try to be a better pitcher tomorrow, I’m here to win, and I want to help us win.
“I want to beat the hell out of them every time I see them, especially when we’re this close and we have this kind of race like this coming down the stretch. It just makes it that much more fun.”