CLEVELAND – Three games left. One game out of a playoff spot.
That’s what the Twins have to work with.
“I love our chances,” outfielder Torii Hunter said. “All we wanted was a chance to compete and to get in the postseason, and we have given ourselves a pretty good chance right now.
“This whole team has been fighting all year. We overcame a lot of odds, and I’m excited.”
Their wild-card dreams stayed alive Thursday night when they pulled off a white-knuckle wonder with a 4-2 victory over the Indians. The Twins fell behind 2-1 in the seventh inning but ran themselves into a tie in the eighth and accepted gifts from their hosts in the ninth. They took three of four games in Cleveland and have won eight of their past 11.
The Rangers beat the Angels in the opener of a four-game series at Texas on Thursday to clinch a playoff spot. Now the Twins and Angels have identical 83-76 records, one game behind Houston (84-75) for the second wild card. The Astros, who were off Thursday, finish the season with an interleague series at Arizona.
The scene for the Twins shifts to Target Field this weekend, where they play host to AL Central champion Kansas City for the final three games of the regular season. The Royals are playing for home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Twins just want a seat at the table, and they probably need to win all three games to make things interesting.
Things could get crazy. They really could.
First, the Twins needed to take care of business Thursday, when rookie righthander Tyler Duffey, in his latest big outing, carried a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning. However, in the seventh, his 3-1 fastball caught too much of the plate, and Indians catcher Roberto Perez drilled it to center for a two-run homer and 2-1 lead. It was the first homer off Duffey in 163 batters.
“I gave up the lead,” Duffey said, “but I knew we weren’t going to just roll over like that.”
With one out in the eighth and Bryan Shaw pitching for Cleveland, Danny Santana — 0-for-10 in 10 chances as a pinch hitter this season — batted for Kurt Suzuki and drew only his sixth walk of the year. On a 1-1 pitch to Eduardo Escobar, Santana took off for second as Escobar shot a grounder down the left field line for his 31st double. Santana never stopped running and scored the tying run.
That inning ended when Joe Mauer hit into a double play with runners at the corners, but the Twins weren’t done. Trevor Plouffe, who earlier drove in Mauer with a ground-rule double in the fourth, reached off closer Cody Allen with one out in the ninth when Indians second baseman Jose Ramirez — who angered the Twins a night earlier by flipping his bat after a home run — bounced a throw to first.
Plouffe was replaced by pinch runner Eduardo Nunez, who raced to third when Eddie Rosario floated a single to right. Lonnie Chisenhall’s throw bounced and hit Nunez in the head at third before deflecting away, an error that moved Rosario to second.
With Hunter up, Allen bounced a 2-2 pitch in the dirt, and Nunez broke home to score the lead run. Hunter had to compose himself, because Perez inadvertently elbowed Hunter below the belt while chasing the wild pitch. Hunter recovered and hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Rosario for a 4-2 lead.
“[Allen] threw a fastball up, and that’s something I could handle and get out in the outfield,” said Hunter, who had been 1-for-9 against Allen in his career.
The rally made a winner out of Glen Perkins, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth against the top three batters in the Indians lineup. Kevin Jepsen gave up a two-out single in the ninth but still converted his 15th save, 10th with the Twins.
That’s 83 victories for the Twins. And they are looking for three more.
“We just have to try to find ways to extend this thing,” manager Paul Molitor said. “We’re down to three games and we’re still there. We need help, we all know that. Even if we win out, we need help. So keep trying to win as many as we can.”