Tribe tops Twins, ties Rays to put twist on WC chase
Cleveland takes early lead and fends off late rally by Minnesota
By Jordan Bastian / 9/28/2013 1:37 AM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians might be closing in on a celebration. Somewhere inside Target Field, there are surely rolls of plastic tucked away for use during a clubhouse party. Maybe Minnesota can recycle the sheets that protected the locker room during Detroit's American League Central clinching earlier this week.
There are, of course, two games to go against the Twins, but the Tribe is in the driver's seat and kept its foot on the gas in a 12-6 romp on Friday night. Cleveland used an overwhelming offensive push in the first two innings and piled on late to pull into a tie with Tampa Bay in the AL Wild Card race.
But the specifics of the team's position matter little to manager Terry Francona.
October is October.
"I just want to keep playing," Francona said. "I don't want to go home. I just want to keep playing. I don't care where we play, when we play. I just want to keep playing."
The Indians have rattled off eight wins in a row -- tying their season-best winning streak -- and now have 19 wins in September. That represents the most victories in a single month for Cleveland since the club had the same total in the final month of the 2007 campaign. That year the Tribe came one win shy of reaching the World Series.
Cleveland's goal is to have that same opportunity again.
As things stand, the Indians and Rays are knotted atop the Wild Card standings with identical 90-70 records. If they end the regular season with the same record and the Rangers do not throw a wrinkle into the scenario, the Rays own the tiebreaker over the Tribe and would host the Wild Card game on Wednesday in St. Petersburg.
The Rangers remain one game behind both teams after their win over the Angels on Friday.
"It can be tougher when you're on top and looking down at everybody coming after you," said outfielder Drew Stubbs, who hit a two-run homer and scored three runs. "I feel like we've been chasing the Rays, and the Rangers have been chasing both of us. ... We've just got to keep pushing these last couple of days."
In his first season at the helm, Francona has helped guide the Indians to a 22-win improvement (from 68 to 90) over last year's showing, but he was in no mood to reflect on what the team has accomplished.
"I think there's time to reminisce when the season is over," he said. "We've got to show up in about 10 hours and try to get to 91. I'm thrilled that we're playing for what we're playing for, but this is a lot of different faces. [General manager Chris Antonetti] did a good job from last year. This is a different team."
In their latest trip to the win column -- their 13th victory in the past 15 games -- the Indians stormed to a seven-run lead after just two innings. The Tribe churned out six runs on seven hits (four for extra bases) against lefty Pedro Hernandez and added a run off reliever Shairon Martis before Minnesota could get out of the second.
"They were all over [Hernandez] from the get-go," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It was kind of nonstop, and we had to go to other guys."
Nick Swisher ignited the four-run burst in the opening inning with a one-out double, and Jason Kipnis sent him home with a triple to the wall in right-center field. Carlos Santana hit two doubles through the first two innings and Asdrubal Cabrera added a pair of two-base hits. Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes combined to plate five of the Tribe's runs.
Kipnis' RBI single off reliever Liam Hendriks in the eighth gave the Indians 10 runs on the night. Kipnis finished a home run shy of the cycle, marking the eighth time in his young career he has fallen one hit short of that feat.
Cleveland collected 17 hits; all nine starters turned in at least one. Seven players had at least one RBI, six had a multihit game and four scored at least twice.
"Oh, man, that was so nice," Francona said of the quick seven-run lead. "We did such a good job early. We got after [Hernandez] and kind of stayed after him. We used the middle of the field and really did a good job. That was fun to watch."
Right-hander Corey Kluber (11-5) earned the win despite an up-and-down effort that included six runs allowed on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings. That said, three of the runs charged to him came after his exit in the sixth inning, when lefty Rich Hill gave up a run-scoring groundout to Pedro Florimon and a two-run single to Alex Presley.
The Twins (66-94) first broke through against Kluber in the fourth inning courtesy of an RBI single to left field off the bat of Trevor Plouffe. One inning later, Florimon drilled a 2-0 pitch from Kluber deep to right field for a two-run homer that cut Cleveland's lead to six runs.
It was hardly enough to slow Cleveland.
"It's exciting," Kluber said of the playoff chase. "This is what we all wanted the chance to do, play in the postseason. We're right on the brink of that."
With Saturday's tilt scheduled for 1 p.m. ET and his team in position to clinch a spot in the playoffs, Francona was eager to start prepping.
"I can't wait," he said. "I ought to just sit here and stay in my uni, because I'm probably not going to sleep a whole heck of a lot."