CLEVELAND, Ohio — Mike Clevinger took the surest path to get back into the good graces of his teammates Wednesday night at Progressive Field. He simply did what he does best — pitch.
Clevinger began his first start in three weeks by allowing a leadoff homer to Max Kepler. Not a good way to erase the memory of his night out in Chicago with fellow right-hander Zach Plesac that cost him baseball’s version of 30 days in the hole.
After that he did just fine as the Indians rallied for the second straight night to beat the Twins, 6-3, and move to within a half-game of first in the AL Central. The Twins, Indians and White Sox are within a half-game of each other.
Clevinger allowed two runs on eight hits in a six-inning no-decision. He struck out six and walked one on 86 pitches. It was a win-win night for Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations. He can keep Clevinger to help strengthen one of the strongest rotations in the big leagues. Or he can trade him by Monday’s deadline to bring in a hitter to help the Indians’ suspect offense.
“I was just thinking about how tight this division is, how tight this race is right now and how every pitch is going to mean something,” said Clevinger. “It kind of overshadowed my anxiousness to do well for my redemption. I couldn’t get it out of my head how close we were to them and this team has been roll right now and I just wanted to keep the same vibe rolling through.”
Acting manager Sandy Alomar said Clevinger showed some rust and anxiousness early in the game.
“After he settled down, he had the best fastball he’s had all year,” said Alomar. “He was impressive after not being on the mound for more than two weeks.”
As for how the usually gregarious Clevinger interacted with his teammates, Alomar said he was quiet before the game.
“Normally he’s kind of rah-rah-rah,” said Alomar. “Giving high fives to everybody. He was more quiet today. He wanted to make sure he was accepted by the guys. He carried that to the mound the first couple of innings, but after a while he settled down and was the same guy. I think the guys did a good job accepting him.”
That suspect defense struck for three runs in the eighth to shatter a 3-3 tie and start the last half of the 60-game sprint in style. Tyler Naquin’s double, Greg Allen’s sacrifice fly and Cesar Hernandez’s single accounted for the runs as nine batters went to the plate.
Sergio Romo, who barked at the Indians’ bench Monday after stemming a rally in the eighth inning of a 3-2 Twins win, started the eighth. Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor were all over him from the far end of the Indians’ dugout. Chatter travels a long way in an empty ballpark.
Carlos Santana opened the eighth with a single. Franmil Reyes walked as the chatter grew louder from the bench. Tyler Naquin doubled down the left-field line for a 4-3 lead as Santana scored and Reyes went to third. Allen delivered Reyes with a sacrifice fly to right. Romo (0-1) hit Roberto Perez with a pitch to end his night. Lefty Danny Coulombe relieved as Delino DeShields moved Naquin to third with a fly ball to right. Hernandez made it 6-3 with a single.
“We come to the ballpark to win every single day,” said Naquin. “You have to play hard to the last out. Every pitch and every inch counts. Minnesota is a good team over there and we just have to keep playing hard.”
Oliver Perez, Phil Maton (2-0) and Brad Hand worked in relief of Clevinger. Hand retired the Twins in order in the ninth for his ninth save in as many games. Maton went 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the win.
The Indians took a 3-2 lead on Ramirez’s three-run homer in the third off Jose Berrios. It just cleared the wall down the right field line and banged into the base of the foul pole. The Twins asked for the umpires to review the hit to see if it was foul, but the fair call stood.
Instant replay played a role in the rally that erased a 2-0 Twins lead.
DeShields opened the inning with a single and stole second. He was called out by umpire Ron Kulpa, but the Indians challenged the call. The review took 2:10, but the call on the field was reversed. Hernandez followed with a walk and Ramirez hit a 1-0 change up for his fifth homer, all of them at Progressive Field. Ramirez came into the game hitting .193 (6-for-31) with no homers against Berrios.
Clevinger protected the lead through the sixth in his first start since Aug. 5 against the Reds. Perez started the seventh having allowed one earned run this season in 12 appearances. Pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza opened the inning with a double off the center-field wall. Adrianza moved to third on a fly ball to right by Alex Avila and scored on Jake Cave’s bloop single into shallow right over a drawn-in infield to make it 3-3.
Maton relieved and ended the inning by getting Jorge Polanco to hit into a double play. It was Perez’s first blown save of the season. Cave’s hit was just the second Perez has allowed to a lefty this year.
Kepler gave the Twins a 1-0 lead on Clevinger’s third pitch. Kepler drove a 2-0 pitch into the right field seats for his third leadoff homer of the season and second off Clevinger. Kepler likes to hit against the Indians. It was his 16th homer against the Indians and 12th at Progressive Field.
Kepler, however, left the game in the second after fouling a ball off his right foot.
LaMonte Wade gave the Twins a 2-0 lead with a single in the second. Miguel Sano scored after his one-out double.
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