CLEVELAND – The Twins, benefiting from a game-changing play in the seventh inning, fought back to beat the Indians 5-3 on Friday.
Game-changing replay, actually.
Max Kepler looked to have grounded out to end the inning with the Twins down 3-1 and extend the team’s recent failures with runners in scoring position. But the Twins challenged the decision, and won. Miguel Sano scored from third to get the Twins within a run, then Jorge Polanco ripped a two-run double to center.
Mitch Garver added a home run in the eighth and Taylor Rogers secured a six-out save as the Twins took the first game of a big three-game series at Progressive Field. Cleveland chugged into the All-Star break having won six straight games and 21 of 29, closing within 5½ games of the Twins in the American League Central. But the Twins eventually broke through the Indians’ bullpen.
“I think we can point to a lot of different guys tonight that did positive things in tough situations,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “In tough circumstances.”
The Twins can also point to technology.
Before the seventh inning, the Twins were drowning in their inability to convert in run-scoring situations — again.They were 14-for-57 (.246) with runners in scoring position in the six games leading to the All-Star break, mostly propped up by an 8-for-16 outburst on July 5 against Texas. Take that out, and the Twins were hitting .170 in such situations.
Over the first six innings Friday, the Twins were 0-for-6 with runners on base. But with men on first and third in the seventh, Kepler hit a bouncer that was gloved by Francisco Lindor, who threw to first.
Kepler signaled safe. First base umpire Ron Kulpa signaled out, and the Indians began to walk off the field.
Not so fast.
The Twins challenged Kulpa’s decision, and 1 minute, 42 seconds later, the call was overturned.
“Kep got down the line good and kind of forced us into a spot where we had to challenge,” Baldelli said. “Truthfully, the situation of the game right there puts you in a spot. Even if you’re truly not sure, you probably need to challenge the play regardless and give yourself a chance.”
That brought Polanco to the plate, and the All-Star shortstop turned Indians center fielder Oscar Mercado around with his drive that went to the wall, scoring Ehire Adrianza and Kepler.
“I knew I hit it well since I hit it off the barrel,” Polanco said. “I thought it was going to hit the wall.”
Zack Littell got the win in relief.
The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the first on Nelson Cruz’s home run to center off Indians starter Mike Clevinger. It was Cruz’s 377th homer, tying him with Norm Cash and Jeff Kent for 77th all-time.
Twins righthander Kyle Gibson carried the lead into the fourth before falling apart. He gave up a leadoff home run to Carlos Santana and threw 20 pitches before he registered an out. Adrianza contributed to the mess by committing a throwing error that put runners on first and third.
Gibson had a chance to escape with just the homer on his record, but Roberto Perez doubled in two runs, giving Cleveland a 3-1 lead.
Eventually, the Twins kept pressing the issue and pressing the rewind button, until their fortunes changed and they padded their division lead.
“I think, more importantly, winning the series would kind of take some of their momentum away and start it getting going back our way,” Gibson said. “So winning the first game is definitely a big part of that.”