The Twins are alive, energized, optimistic. The Indians are subdued, disheartened, annoyed.
One pitch did that Tuesday.
So say the Indians, anyway, after the Twins struck for three runs in only four batters, a sudden microburst of offense that victimized one of their more frequent tormentors and carried them to a 3-1 victory at Target Field and edged them closer to a playoff spot.
Aaron Hicks tripled, Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer both doubled, and Ervin Santana, Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen made that wisp of a rally stand up, beating Danny Salazar in the same way he had dominated them for five consecutive meetings. Combined with the Astros’ 4-3 loss to the Angels in Houston, the victory pulled Minnesota within two games of the final wild-card berth in the American League, and put a 2½-game margin between the Twins and Indians.
“We were just able to take advantage of some mistakes,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
The biggest one, said Salazar, was made by home plate umpire Tom Hallion, a call that triggered the Twins’ lone outburst. Salazar, who allowed three total runs in two previous starts against Minnesota this year, had retired the first eight Twins he faced when, with two outs in the third and a 3-2 count to Eduardo Escobar, he broke a 94-mph inside fastball over the plate for strike three.
That’s Salazar’s version. Hallion’s (and Escobar’s) was, the ball stayed inside for ball four.
“I did have him struck out. The umpire, he didn’t agree,” Salazar complained afterward. “That got me thinking a little bit too much on the mound, and got me out of my rhythm.”
Whatever the cause, the Twins took advantage. Hicks followed with a deep fly ball to the warning track in left-center, a drive that Michael Brantley dived for, got a glove on … and had it bounce out of his glove on impact with the ground. Even Hicks thought the inning was over.
Escobar scored on the triple and Brantley injured his right shoulder, forcing Cleveland’s All-Star outfielder to leave the game an inning later. Then Dozier hit a drive of his own to deep center, a double that scored Hicks. And Mauer waited on a 2-2 changeup and launched another drive, hustling to second base for an RBI double of his own.
All that with two outs. Salazar seethed.
“The umpires know these are really important games, they can’t be missing calls like that,” the Indians righthander said. “… Because of that bad call, it cost me 20 more pitches and three runs, and brings one of our guys out of the game, too.”
Again, the Twins’ version is a little different.
“We parlayed a nice two-out walk from Escobar into a three-run inning with three good at-bats there,” Molitor said. “Dozier had a good at-bat — he finally got a fastball he could handle. A hit in the gap, a hustle double and Joe followed it with a two-strike double on an off-speed pitch, another hustle double.”
Maybe it wouldn’t matter, since Santana was brilliant once more, pitching his fifth consecutive quality start, this time going seven innings and allowing only one run while striking out seven.
The Twins failed to score after loading the bases with no outs in the seventh, but Perkins pitched out of Santana’s two-on, no-out jam in the eighth and Jepsen earned his eighth Twins save (13th overall this season) in the ninth to complete the victory.