Twins players have been apologizing to Ron Gardenhire, the manager said Saturday, for failing to earn him career victory 1,000. The Indians, now certain to play beyond Sunday’s season finale, aren’t apologizing to anyone for denying Gardenhire the magic number.

Cleveland took took the lead in the American League wildcard chase with a 5-1 victory at Target Field, ensuring itself no worse than two tiebreaking games to get into the postseason — and ensuring that Gardenhire, stuck on 998 victories since Monday, won’t reach quadruple digits this year.

The Twins’ ninth loss in 10 games dropped them to 5-19 since Sept. 4, a demoralizing collapse that has denied Gardenhire, now 998-946 in 12 seasons, a milestone that once appeared inevitable this year.

“I had more than one of [the Twins players] come up and apologize to me. I don’t need that,” said Gardenhire, whose status for next year remains unresolved. “I know what they’re giving me — they’re giving me a lot. I appreciate the efforts. They don’t have to apologize for anything. They come and play. We just weren’t good enough this year.”

The Indians were, especially this month. Cleveland won its ninth in a row and reached 91 victories with one game to play — one more than Texas, which beat the Angels 7-4, and Tampa Bay, which lost at Toronto 7-2. A victory Sunday or a loss by either the Rangers or Rays would clinch Cleveland’s first trip to the postseason since 2007; even if none of those three outcomes occur, the Indians are assured of taking part in a three-way tiebreaker, beginning Monday in Cleveland against the Rays.

“It’s a hungry team over there,” Gardenhire said. “They jump on every mistake.”

Carlos Santana was the first to do so, rocking Cole De Vries for a 400-foot, two-run homer in the fourth inning. Michael Bourn added a two-run triple in the fifth, a play that De Vries said “was the deciding factor in the game.”

That’s because the Twins relayed Bourn’s shot off the right-field wall home in time to catch Mike Aviles at the plate for the third out, and replays showed he stopped short of the plate as catcher Eric Fryer tagged him. But umpire Larry Vanover ruled Aviles safe, and Jason Kipnis drove Bourn home with a single moments later, a two-run swing.

“It’s tough when that play costs you two runs and 15 pitches,” said De Vries, who retired the first 11 hitters he faced before surrendering the five runs. “I feel like the game would be completely different — whether we won or not, who knows?”

Gardenhire protested the call, though he was more careful than usual because “[Vanover] was miked [for Fox TV]. I saved a lot of money.” Still, the manager said, “He didn’t touch home. I could see it from my angle. He just stopped short.”

Scott Kazmir gave up one run in six innings for Cleveland, but that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The veteran lefthander had given up only four runs in 25 innings to the Twins in four previous starts this year. This time, he had few problems against a lineup of youngsters, giving up six singles while striking out 11. That gives Kazmir 36 strikeouts in 31 innings against the Twins, and a 1.45 ERA.


• Josmil Pinto was out of the lineup because of a bruised hand, but Gardenhire said the rookie catcher should be OK to play Sunday.

• Indians slugger Jason Giambi left because of a forearm cramp in the fifth inning.