Kepler’s display of power as the leadoff hitter for the most potent offensive team in the big leagues was enough to give the Twins a 5-4 win over the Indians. The Indians, however, may have won more than they lost in this three-game series.
The Indians (31-31) took two out of three from the steamrolling Twins. When they returned from Chicago on Sunday night, they trailed Minnesota by 11 1/2 games in the AL Central. They cut the deficit to 9 1/2 games with victories on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the Twins (41-20) pushed their lead back to 10 1/2 with Thursday’s win.
But at least the Indians know they can play with the Twins. Minnesota leads the big leagues in homers, but in this three-game series the Indians out-homered them, 9-8, despite Kepler’s big game. Rookie Oscar Mercado gave the Tribe home-run lead with a two-out pinch-hit homer in the ninth to make it a one-run game.
Manager Terry Francona does not consider squeezing good news out of defeat a good approach.
“We move on pretty quick,” said Francona. “I think that’s kind of a losing mentality. We lost tonight. That’s what I take away from it. Now we better hurry up and regroup because the Yankees are coming in tomorrow. I think that’s the healthiest way to look at things.”
Bauer (4-6, 3.93) lost his fourth straight start, but he powered through eight innings for just the second time this season. The effort was appreciated after the Indians used seven relievers in Wednesday’s 9-7 victory in the wake of Carlos Carrasco going in the injured list with a blood condition.
Kepler opened the game with a homer to right for a 1-0 lead. He made it 3-0 with a two-run blast to right in the third following a leadoff single by Willians Astudillo. Kepler cleared the center field fence to start the seventh for a 5-1 edge. In his final at-bat, Kepler singled in the ninth to complete a 4-for-4 night.
It was the second three-homer game in Kepler’s career. The first came against the Tribe on Aug. 1, 2016 at Progressive Field. The Twins have 10 three-homer games in franchise history. The last two have come against the Indians. Eddie Rosario did it on June 3, 2018 at Target Field followed by Kepler on Thursday night.
Kepler entered the game hitting .258 (8-for-31) against Bauer with no homers. It was the first time Bauer has allowed three homers to one batter in a game.
“Besides Kepler I thought Trevor was really good,” said Francona. “Kepler had one of those career nights that was our undoing. He hit a fastball, changeup, slider all for home runs. Other than that, Trev didn’t give up a whole lot of hits.”
If you’re into numbers, Kepler’s first homer came on a 0-1 pitch and traveled 369 feet. The second came on a 1-2 pitch and traveled 375 feet. The third came on Bauer’s first pitch and sailed 406 feet.
“The first pitch was a change up, second pitch of the game,” said Bauer. "It was in a beneficial spot for me, something that was supposed to play in my favor. I think I fooled him and he hit it out.
“Then the second at-bat, I went to what was supposed to be the most advantageous pitch for me against him. I threw it in an advantageous spot and he hit it out. Then I walked him a third time. The fourth time I missed with a pitch and he hit it out.
“Out of the three homers, two of them I felt like were pitches that were supposed to be in my favor, clearly they weren’t.”
The Indians didn’t get their offense going against Jose Berrios (8-2, 3.14) until Roberto Perez homered with two out in the fifth. Perez’s third homer in as many games made it 4-1. The Tribe’s catcher now has a career-high 10 homers this season.
The Tribe moved closer with two runs in the seventh on an RBI single by Tyler Naquin and sacrifice fly by Perez to make it 5-3. Trevor May ended the inning by getting Francisco Lindor to hit into a force play at second.
After Jose Ramirez reached on an error to start the seventh, Berrios was replaced by Matt Magill. Berrios held the Tribe to two runs, one earned, on two hits in six innings. He is 2-0 with a 0.65 ERA against the Tribe this year. He’s struck out 16, walked two and allowed one earned run in 13 2/3 innings in two starts.
Bauer allowed five runs on five hits in eight innings. He struck out seven and walked three in 119 pitches. He’s 0-1 against the Twins this year and 6-8 in his career.
Lefty Taylor Rogers pitched the ninth for his sixth save despite allowing Mercado’s homer.
The Indians open a three-game series against the Yankees tonight with rookie Zach Plesac (0-1, 1.46) taking the mound for them. He’ll face right-hander Domingo German (9-1, 3.66) at 7:10 p.m. SportsTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM will carry the game.
Plesac lost to the White Sox on Sunday despite allowing one run on four hits in seven innings. He stuck out seven and walked one. German leads the big leagues with nine wins.