Indians beat Twins, will host wild-card game

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- Winning the right to play at least one more game might not seem like a reason to celebrate, but the Cleveland Indians don't mind going a little nuts for now.

The Indians held a raucous bash in the Target Field visitors' clubhouse after wrapping up their first postseason berth since 2007, clinching home-field for the American League wild-card game by beating the Minnesota Twins 5-1 in the regular season finale in Minneapolis.

"We're going to party tonight, man," said a champagne-soaked Nick Swisher, who got Cleveland started with a two-run homer in the first inning. "We're going to enjoy this, and get back after it."

Ubaldo Jimenez did a big part in making sure Cleveland would have no need for a wild-card tiebreaker, tying a career-best with 13 strikeouts and allowing just one run on five hits over 6 2/3 innings.

"This feels good; that's what you play for," said Jimenez, after getting drenched with a bunch of bubbly from four teammates.

The Indians won their 10th straight game to close out the season, getting to 92 wins a year after a miserable second-half slump dropped them from contention to 20 games out of the lead.

"We had to (win their last 10)," said first-year manager Terry Francona. "There's no chance, or we'd have to go home.

"But we're still playing. That was our goal."

The Indians stormed out of the third-base dugout after Clete Thomas grounded out to end the game, gathering for a group celebration behind the pitching mound. It was the third time in less than two weeks that an AL team clinched a postseason spot at the expense of the Twins, following the Athletics and Tigers.

Minnesota lost its last six games of the season, denying manager Ron Gardenhire a chance at 1,000 wins. He was stuck at 998 for more than a week.

"A tough year, not a good year at all," said Gardenhire.

Cleveland takes on either Tampa Bay or Texas on Wednesday at Progressive Field in the wild-card game. The Rays and Rangers both won on Sunday, and meet Monday in Texas to determine the Indians' opponent.

There is no word on who will start for the Indians on Wednesday, although 14-game winner Justin Masterson might get tapped after closing out the postseason-clinching win with two scoreless innings.

Jimenez was practically untouchable, giving up a soft single to Twins lead-off hitter Alex Presley and little else after that. Jimenez (13-9) fanned five in a row in the fifth and sixth innings while tying a career high for strikeouts.

It was the 66th time this season that the Twins struck out at least 10 times in one game.

The Indians never trailed in sweeping the four-game series. They immediately removed any drama in the regular season finale when Michael Bourne led off the game with a single and Nick Swisher homered off Twins starter Scott Diamond (6-13). The ball just cleared the fence and was barely out of the reach of Thomas.

Cleveland added two runs in the sixth on a pair of Minnesota errors and a sacrifice fly by Yan Gomes. A third error in the half-inning, when a retreating Trevor Plouffe allowed a ground ball to sneak under his glove, drew boos from the smallish crowd of die-hards who watched their team lose for the 96th time.

Plouffe drew more scorn when he struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch with two outs and two runners on base in the sixth. The Twins finally broke through in the seventh on a run-scoring single by Eric Fryer.

Change could be coming for Minnesota after a third straight season of at least 95 losses. Gardenhire, who's won six division titles in 12 seasons with the Twins, does not have a contract for next season and will meet with general manager Terry Ryan later this week about his future with the team.

After that, it will be another offseason trying to correct what went wrong.

"We've got a lot of work to do here," Ryan said. "A lot of work."

NOTES: The Twins ended the season with 1,430 strikeouts, a franchise-high and third-most in baseball history. ... In their last five games of the season, all at home, the Twins never held a lead. ... Cleveland finished with 41 wins after the All-Star Break after winning just 24 times in the second half of last season. ... Francona has led his teams to at least 86 wins nine straight years.
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