CLEVELAND, Ohio — When the Twins went to their bullpen on Friday, the Guardians got to work, rallying from a three-point deficit for a 4-3 victory at Progressive Field that, coupled with a loss in Chicago, reduced their magic number to clinch the American League Central Division at 15.
Cleveland scored four times against the Minnesota relievers, including the go-ahead in the bottom of the eighth against Twins flamethrower Jhoan Duran. Consecutive singles from Josh Naylor and Oscar Gonzalez off Duran cleared the way for pinched runner Ernie Clement to score from second base on the wild Duran field with Andrés Giménez at home plate.
Clement, who had played sparingly since joining the club in early September, received a tip from Naylor as he trotted in to replace him at second base.
“As I walked in Naylor stopped me and said ‘Hey, be ready for a dirt ball’, so obviously if there’s a dirt ball I have to put my butt on third,” Clement said. “I was just running until (third baseman coach Mike Sarbaugh) stopped me and he never did, so I just kept going.
Manager Terry Francona said bench coach DeMarlo Hale assured him Clement would be ready and not rusty.
“(Hale) like, ‘He comes out every day, taking his ground balls early on. He’ll be fine,’ Francona said. “He’s head high enough to score a big point. the way (Duran) throws, it was going to be hard to hit somebody.
Duran retired Giménez on a ground fly to first that was originally an infield single, but became first out of the inning when Minnesota successfully challenged the call. Owen Miller’s grounder at second kept Gonzalez at third before pinch hitter Richie Palacios was intentionally walked. That’s when Myles Straw was called out on a Duran third strike and fought the call with plate umpire Adam Beck. Straw was ejected, sending the Guardians rushing defensively as Emmanuel Clase closed in entering the game.
“Scramble is the right word,” Francona said. “I was already there talking to the ref before I realized, ‘Uh oh, wait a minute. I better rethink that. I said to him, ‘Give me a minute and I went back and I spoke to DeMarlo.’ I wanted to make sure everyone was in the right place.
Clase allowed a hit but closed the ninth inning on a Gilbeto Celestino ground fly that deflected the pitcher’s hand to José Ramírez, who threw Clement at first base for the final out. It was Clase’s 36th save at the top of the major league.
Cleveland moved four games ahead of Chicago in the AL Central Division race after the White Sox lost in extra innings to Detroit. Minnesota is losing five games in the division and seven and a half games in the hunt for the Wild Card’s third place in the AL. The victory also clinched the season series for the Guardians against Minnesota, securing a tiebreaker over the Twins should the two teams finish with identical records.
Seven of Cleveland’s 10 wins against the Twins this season have come in their last at bat. The Guardians recorded their 31st comeback victory and improved to 32-15 in games decided in the seventh inning or later. Francona said the feeling of a playoff chase never gets old.
“I’m nervous as hell, and I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Francona said. “It was exciting. The guys work all winter and all spring and play all year for the right to play such an exciting game. It’s awesome. Embrace it.”
Dormant for six innings, the Guardians roster came to life in the seventh when a throwing error by Twins second baseman Nick Gordon opened the door for a three-run inning.
Giménez rushed down the line to reach base on Gordon’s error and went third on pinch hitter Miller’s single to right. Straw delivered an RBI single through the middle of Minnesota right-hander Griffin Jax to put Cleveland on the scoreboard. It was Straw’s seventh hit in his last four games. He entered the game at bat .333 in the Sept. 13 starts.
After Miller and Straw got into position to score on Steven Kwan’s field, Amed Rosario hit the two-out hit the Guardians desperately needed. Down in the 0-2 count, Rosario smashed a Jax fastball past Carlos Correa at short for a two-run single that tied the score at 3-3. It was Rosario’s sixth hit at home, giving him four RBIs in his last four games.
Twins starter Bailey Ober allowed just one hit in five innings, walking a batter and hitting two more while cutting through Cleveland’s lineup with relative ease. Activated from the injured list 15 days before the start of Friday, Ober has missed 89 games with a groin injury that has sidelined him since early June.
Jose Miranda doubled on his first at bat and drove in Minnesota’s first run with another double in the third. Miranda picked out a first-pitch slider from Goalies starter Triston McKenzie and threw it to the third base line, just under José Ramírez’s glove. It was Miranda’s team-leading 64th RBI and his 44th in 62 games since July 1.
Jake Cave added to Minnesota’s lead in the fourth with a two-run outburst to center McKenzie with Gio Urshela on board. It was Cave’s third career home run against Cleveland, giving him 11 RBIs.
McKenzie retired seven batters for the Twins and did not give up a walk. He allowed six hits, including Cave’s home run which was the 24th he allowed, tying him for fourth in the AL with Seattle’s Marco Gonzalez and Houston’s Jose Urquidy.
After the home run against Cave, McKenzie struck out 11 of the next 12 batters he faced, allowing only a single in the seventh to Mark Contreras. McKenzie said her focus became sharper knowing what was at stake.
“You can tell how much more it means to the team just knowing that the place we lead in these [games]”said McKenzie.” It’s a huge weekend for us, especially in this last part of the season. The energy and vibes in the clubhouse, these are must-play games for us and we’re going to go out there and play like that.
Next: The series continues with a doubleheader on Saturday at Progressive Field. Game 1 is scheduled for a first pitch at 1:10 p.m. and will feature Guardians right-hander Shane Bieber (10-8, 2.91) taking on the Twins and right-hander Louie Varland (0-0, 3.38). Game 2 sees Cleveland LHP left-hander Konnor Pilkington (1-2, 4.30) against Minnesota right-hander Josh Winder (4-4, 3.83). Both games will be broadcast on Bally Sports Great Lakes, WTAM 1100 AM, WMMS 100.7 FM and the Guardians Radio Network.
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