Twins 4, Indians 3
MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Since clinching the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins have been trying to get healthy and secure homefield advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
They still can do both.
Minnesota must beat the Indians Saturday and Sunday and have Anaheim and Oakland avoid a sweep in their three-game series. Then the Twins would host Boston in Game 1 of the division series on Tuesday. If not, they open on the road against the New York Yankees.
“We know this crowd picks us up,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, who rested ailing regulars and limited Johan Santana and Brad Radke to five innings apiece while Minnesota was swept by the Yankees this week.
“We understand what’s at stake,” Gardenhire said. “We want to play here.”
Ronnie Belliard went 3-for-5 with a home run, and Coco Crisp was 2-for-3 with an RBI for Cleveland (79-81)—which missed a chance at its first winning season since 2001. The Indians were 68-94 last year.
“We take it like a team,” Belliard said. “We know Minnesota comes back in the late innings … they did that again.”
The crowd, announced at 25,322, stood and cheered as the Twins took the lead in the eighth and Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for his 44th save in 47 tries. The rally served as a mini-reminder of how electric the atmosphere can be under the Metrodome’s roof when the games mean something.
“I’ve always kind of enjoyed it when people are rooting for me instead of against me,” starter Terry Mulholland deadpanned. “Call me strange, but I’ll take cheers walking off the field instead of boos.”
After Jesse Crain (3-0) pitched a scoreless eighth, Bobby Howry (4-2) allowed singles to Lew Ford and Jason Kubel and a walk to Torii Hunter. Cliff Bartosh relieved and got one out before Koskie’s big hit.
“We weren’t able to get the job done in the eighth inning,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
The 6-foot-8 Elarton, whose career has been marred by shoulder problems, signed with Cleveland in May after going 0-6 with a 9.80 ERA in eight starts and being waived by the Rockies.
He’s been much better with the Indians—this was his fifth straight start allowing three runs or less. He’s still looking for his first victory in 24 starts on the road, however. The last one came with the Astros on May 6, 2001, at Montreal.
Elarton gave up two runs, five hits and two walks in 6 2-3 innings. He watched the Indians lose for the 10th time this year after leading through seven.
“I’ve felt more comfortable since my first four or five starts here,” he said. “I had a lot of adjustments to make.”
Since clinching a third straight division title on Sept. 20, Minnesota has struggled to find a rhythm with several regulars healing nagging injuries. Left fielder Shannon Stewart (hamstring) and second baseman Luis Rivas (elbow) still weren’t ready to start Friday, and right fielder Jacque Jones was held out following the death of his father.
This was the Twins’ third win in 10 games since they clinched.
Mulholland pitched seven strong innings—allowing seven hits, three runs (two earned) and one walk in his longest outing since an eight-inning no-decision in Cleveland on Aug. 15. Minnesota won that game 4-2 in 10 innings, the turning point in the race.
Seven weeks ago, it looked like this series would be big. After pulling within one game of the Twins on Aug. 14, though, the Indians lost nine straight and the Twins surged ahead of the pack.
Belliard made a routine catch of Hunter’s pop-up in the fourth inning look anything but routine. Backpedaling from second base into the outfield as he held his glove parallel to his body, Belliard watched the ball pop out of his mitt and ricochet off his bare hand, chest and chin before landing back in the glove. … Nobody struck out until Justin Morneau went down swinging in the bottom of the eighth, but four of the last six outs were strikeouts. … Cleveland scored twice in the second on a double by Crisp and a sacrifice fly by Josh Bard.