Mike Clevinger and the Cleveland Indians gave the Minnesota Twins another reminder that winning their first division title in nine years won’t be easy.
Clevinger won his 10th straight decision, and Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor homered as the Indians beat the Twins 5-2 on Sunday.
Cleveland, 1 1/2 games behind Oakland for the second wild card in the American League, moved back to 5 1/2 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central. The Indians and Twins close the season series with a three-game set in Cleveland that begins on Friday.
But first, the Indians head to the West Coast to play a series against the Angels that starts Monday, while the Twins host the NL Wild Card-leading Nationals for three at Target Field. Both teams know they have work to do before the rematch.
“That’s not going to be a big series if we don’t win in between there,” said Clevinger, who will try to beat the Twins for the third time this year when he faces them next. “If we’re still in a good spot, that should be a pivotal series that next go-round.”
Clevinger (11-2) put Cleveland in a good spot on Sunday, allowing two runs and four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. He hasn’t lost since June 28. In his last 13 starts, Clevinger is 10-0 with a 2.00 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 81 innings.
“He’s really tough. He misses about as many bats as anybody in baseball,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “His stuff is excellent. He executes pretty well. It’s never an easy day when you’re facing him.”
The Twins brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth against closer Brad Hand. But thanks to an injury-riddled lineup, Ryan LaMarre — acquired earlier in the day in a trade with the Braves — was left to face Hand in his first major league plate appearance of the year.
LaMarre took a called third strike on a full-count pitch and Hand earned his 34th save.
The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on Franmil Reyes’ two-run single off Twins starter Randy Dobnak (0-1).
Santana hit his 33rd homer of the season, a solo shot off reliever Devin Smeltzer in the third. Lindor tagged Smeltzer for his 29th of the season in the fifth.
The Twins got a solo home run from Mitch Garver — his third in two days and 29th of the season — in the fourth inning.
Trailing 5-2 in the seventh, the Twins loaded the bases with one out, but reliever Nick Wittgren struck out C.J. Cron and Garver to end the threat.
The Indians took three out of four games from the Twins in early August and left town tied for first place. But the Indians have gone 12-14 since while the Twins have won 17 of 25 to restore their lead. And even after losing another series at home to Cleveland, the Twins show no signs of panic.
“This team, we believe in these guys, we believe in every player here,” infielder Ehire Adrianza said. “It’s a pretty good lead. We are the ones who are in first place. We know that those guys won’t give up. We’ve got to keep fighting for these last 20 games, but we should be good.”
MERCADO TAKES A HIT
On the first Sunday of the NFL season, the hardest hit of the day might’ve taken place in the Indians’ outfield. Right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Oscar Mercado collided as they chased a fly ball in the second inning.
“It’s one of those where you don’t want to get out of the way because you don’t know if he’s going to get out of the way, so we both kind of just went for it,” said Mercado, who hit the ground as the 240-pound Puig held on for the catch.
“I’m not going to lie, I was freaking out because that’s a freight train,” Mercado said. “But thankfully we both came out OK.”
Clevinger was more concerned about his center fielder’s health than getting an out in that situation.
“I was hoping to see Mercado in one piece when he got back up,” said Clevinger, who noted that Mercado was the first one back on his feet. “Puig’s like a linebacker — I think the Browns might be calling Mercado after this.”
BUXTON TO SEE SPECIALIST
Baldelli said CF Byron Buxton flew to California on Sunday to have a specialist check out his injured left shoulder.
Buxton was sidelined for a month after injuring his shoulder while crashing into a wall on Aug. 1. He was activated on Sept. 1 and has made five appearances as a defensive replacement and pinch runner, but he hasn’t been able to swing a bat yet, and his status for the rest of the season remains uncertain.
“I don’t really think anybody can say for sure, or with any confidence,” Baldelli said of Buxton’s return date. “And that’s why we’re trying to seek out as many opinions as we can.”
Twins: RF Max Kepler left the game in the second inning with upper-chest discomfort. He is considered day-to-day. … 3B Miguel Sanó was unavailable due to back tightness. … Baldelli said DH Nelson Cruz (wrist) was “petitioning to play,” but with a day off Monday, the Twins decided to give him an extra day of rest. He aggravated a left wrist injury while swinging a bat on Friday. … Baldelli expressed optimism that Jake Cave (groin) would return to action “well before the season ends.”
Indians: RHP Shane Bieber (13-7, 3.24 ERA) takes the mound on Monday night as Cleveland opens a three-game series against the Angels in Anaheim. Bieber has given up more than three earned runs just once in his last 16 starts.
Twins: RHP Jose Berrios (11-8, 3.78) will start the opener of a three-game series against Washington on Tuesday night at Target Field. The two-time All-Star has struggled in the second half, and is 1-3 with an 8.07 ERA in six starts since Aug. 6.
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