If the Twins fall just short of a postseason berth, they can look at their lack of success against Cleveland at home as a big reason why.
And they can directly blame Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion.
Tuesday night, the Indians hit five home runs that fueled an 8-1 victory over the Twins in the first game of this three-game showdown series. Santana hit two home runs — one from each side of the plate — while Encarnacion hit one as they moved up the list of visiting home run hitters at Target Field.
The long ball is one way the Indians have won all eight games here this season. The Twins have countered by winning five of the six meetings at Cleveland’s Progressive Field.
“It doesn’t really make sense,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “But there’s a lot of things in our game that you can spin your head around, trying to figure out.”
If the trend continues, the Twins will be eight games out of the AL Central lead by the time Cleveland leaves. Tuesday’s loss knocked the Twins to six games back in the division and kept them from moving into the second wild-card spot.
“I’m well aware of the fact they have come in and dominated us in our home park,” Molitor said. “We’ve got a couple more chances to get in the win column against them here.”
Cleveland righthander Danny Salazar (5-5) continued his recent strong form, helping the Indians win their fifth in a row. He gave up one run, on Byron Buxton’s RBI single in the second, over seven innings with no walks and 10 strikeouts. He has a 1.39 ERA in five starts since coming off the disabled list July 22.
Facing the team he debuted with 20 years ago, Twins righthander Bartolo Colon (4-10) had fans out of their seats early as he danced out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second inning, receiving a standing ovation as he walked off the field. He did it again in the third, when he got a double-play grounder with two on to end the inning.
“I was able to get out of it, and I thought we had the game,” Colon said. “But, obviously, things didn’t go that way.”
Colon was making the right pitches at the right times — but danger lurked. The leadoff batter reached every inning. He had six three-ball counts in the first three innings. He never retired the side in order. And many of Cleveland’s outs were loud -- witness this defensive gem by center fielder Byron Buxton against Encarnacion in the seventh inning off reliever Alan Busenitz that prevented another homer.
It all caught up to Colon during a span of eight batters over the fourth and fifth innings.
Santana hit a homer to right to tie the score in the fourth. Jason Kipnis led off the fifth with a homer, and two batters later Encarnacion hit a fastball well into the second deck to give Cleveland a 3-1 lead.
Austin Jackson’s three-run homer off Buddy Boshers made it 6-1, and Santana added a second homer, his 18th of the season, in the ninth as Cleveland pulled away. It was also Santana’s 14th at Target Field, drawing him into a tie for the lead among visiting players with Kansas City’s Salvador Perez and Toronto’s Jose Bautista.
Encarnacion’s blast was his 12th at Target Field, tying him with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for fourth most. All five of Encarnacion’s homers vs. the Twins this season have come in Minnesota, and in the seventh inning Buxton robbed him of what might have been another one.
The power display highlighted a game in which Cleveland continued a run of dominance here that is hard to explain.
“I don’t know,” Colon said. “All I know is that I’m 0-1 against them.”