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Indians open one-game lead for wild card

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Cleveland Indians are certainly pleased to know that they'll be playing baseball beyond the end of the regular season. Still they would like to avoid a playoff for the wild card and ensure a home playoff game.

Saturday's 5-1 victory at Minnesota means that Cleveland can simply win on Sunday and clinch an American League wild card.

"We can show up tomorrow and see if we can win the game," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's exciting, it's fun. We'll show up and play and we need to be one run better and we'll go from there."

The win over the Twins -- one in which the Indians got six strong innings from Scott Kazmir and some timely two-out hitting -- also gave Cleveland some cushion in its quest to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007. The victory and Tampa Bay's loss at Toronto on Saturday means Cleveland will enter the final day of the regular season in the first American League wild-card spot, a game ahead of the Rays and Texas.

If Cleveland loses on Sunday, it can still clinch a wild-card berth if either Tampa Bay or Texas loses. If the Indians lose and both the Rays and the Rangers win, the three teams would enter a three-team, two-game playoff to determine the two wild-card participants.

The Indians would host the Rays on Monday. The winner of that game would earn a wild card while the loser would play at Texas on Tuesday, with the winner of that game earning the other wild-card spot.

"Our mindset is win tomorrow and then we'll go from there," Cleveland first baseman Nick Swisher said.

Kazmir (10-9) played a large role in the Indians moving to the verge of the postseason. He allowed one run on six hits over six innings while striking out 11 as Cleveland won its ninth consecutive game. Kazmir never got in any real trouble and gave up a lone run when the Twins put together three singles in the bottom of the fourth.

"I thought Kaz had a lot of life on his fastball because I don't think he located as good as he can," Francona said.

The Cleveland offense was slow to get going as Twins starter Cole De Vries (0-2) retired the first 11 Indians he faced. But the Indians got going from there.

Jason Kipnis singled up the middle with two outs in the top of the fourth. Carlos Santana followed by launching a De Vries pitch over the right field wall. Santana's 20th homer of the year gave Cleveland a 2-0 lead.

"It took that one swing of the bat from Santana, he made that one mistake and we kind of started going from there," Jason Giambi said.

Cleveland used some more timely two-out hitting to build its lead an inning later. After Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles singled, Michael Bourn ripped a triple off of the right-field wall that drove in two runs. Two batters later, Kipnis drove in Bourn and gave the Indians a 5-1 lead with a single.

"Carlos' swing was huge, he really hit that ball and really loosened things up," Francona said. "And then (Bourn) had a big hit. We made good use of our hits, we didn't have a ton of them."

After scoring a lone run in the fourth, the Twins managed only three base runners the rest of the game.

"We just have not played good and it's not been a lot of fun," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I wish I could say I knew all the answers, but the guys are out there. They're not feeling too good right now."

The Indians, however, are a confident group.

"We're in a good place right now," Kazmir said. "I feel like we're still very hungry so we're going out there every day and grinding at-bats and making quality pitches. I think that the kind of past couple of weeks and the way we're playing is something we can carry on to the postseason."

And now the Indians know that there is no way that their season can end on Sunday.

NOTES: The start of the game was delayed 2:26 because of rain. ... Ubaldo Jimenez (12-9, 3.38 ERA) will start for Cleveland on Sunday as the Indians try to secure a wild-card berth. Minnesota will counter with Scott Diamond (6-12, 5.54). ... The victory was Cleveland's 40th since the All-Star break, equaling the number that the Indians recorded in 2008. ... This was Kazmir's third victory this season over the Twins. ... The loss means that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire will not reach 1,000 victories this season. With Gardenhire at 998 wins, the Twins needed to win two of the four games against Cleveland. "I had more than one of them come up and apologize to me," Gardenhire said. "I don't need that. I know what they're giving me, they're giving me a lot." ... Cleveland DH Jason Giambi left the game after five innings because of left forearm cramping and is listed as day-to-day.
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