The All-Star first baseman delivered a go-ahead home run late in Sunday’s game at Progressive Field, and reliever Adam Cimber collected a pair of big strikeouts to lift the Tribe past the division-leading Minnesota Twins, 4-3.
Santana’s two-out solo homer in the bottom of the seventh off reliever Trevor May (3-2, 3.12) answered a three-run rally by Minnesota in the top of the inning and helped the Indians salvage a victory after the Twins had taken the first two games of the series.
It was the third time Santana hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later this season. His 21 home runs and 54 RBI are the most in his career through 90 games.
“I tried to look for my pitch,” Santana said. "He threw a breaking ball before he threw two fastballs. In my mind, I’m thinking ‘Put the ball in play.’ He throws hard and I want to be on base. He made a little mistake.”
Manager Terry Francona said Santana was able to find success against May, who had been tough on the Indians first baseman in the past.
“That’s why he’s in there," Francona said. "It was nice for us to get punched in the stomach and come right back. That was a good ending, too. That would’ve been a tough day.”
Cimber (5-2, 2.86) also came up big for Cleveland, working 1 1/3 scoreless innings to get the win. He registered two inning-ending strikeouts that put the brakes on a pair of Twins scoring chances, whiffing Nelson Cruz Jr in the seventh and Miguel Sano in the eighth.
“He gutted up and saved us,” Francona said.
Cleveland pulled back to within 6.5 games of Minnesota in the American League Central Division standings with 10 games remaining between the two teams. The Indians are two games behind Tampa Bay for the top AL Wild Card spot, and are tied with the A’s for the second wild card.
Cleveland starter Shane Bieber followed Tuesday’s All-Star Game MVP performance by cruising through the first six innings Sunday, holding the Twins scoreless on three hits with eight strikeouts.
But things unraveled for the 24-year-old righty in the seventh when rookie Luis Arraez drew a leadoff walk, and Bieber’s high slider appeared to glance off Mitch Garver’s bat. Home plate umpire Ron Kulpa ruled that Garver had been hit by the pitch, and the call was allowed to stand despite Francona’s replay challenge.
Arraez then scored on a base hit by Marwin Gonzalez. After Sano singled to load the bases, Garver came home when Jake Cave was hit by a Bieber four-seam fastball. Kulpa originally ruled the ball foul off the end of Cave’s bat, but Twins manager Rocco Baldelli challenged and the call was reversed. Cave was awarded first base, forcing home Minnesota’s second run.
Max Kepler followed with a broken-bat flare to center off reliever Oliver Perez that plated Gonzalez to tie the score at 3-3. But Perez struck out Jorge Polanco, and Cimber set down Cruz on a called third strike to end the threat.
Cimber worked around a leadoff double by Arraez in the eighth, striking out Sano with the tying run at third. All-Star Brad Hand worked the ninth, striking out Polanco with the tying run at first base for his 24th save.
Early on, Bieber was at his best against the top of Minnesota’s order, keeping Kepler and Polanco off the bases.
Kepler struck out swinging on a wild pitch from Bieber to lead off the sixth, but the pitch got away from catcher Kevin Plawecki, allowing Kepler to hustle down to first. But Bieber stayed focused and got Polanco to ground into a double play three pitches later, then he struck out Cruz to end the frame.
Berrios was not sharp in his first appearance since tossing a scoreless inning in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Greg Allen slapped an RBI single up the middle against him in the fourth that scored Jake Bauers after Bauers led off the inning with his 12th double. Tyler Naquin followed with an RBI single to center to give the Indians a three-run advantage.
Allen entered Sunday’s contest hitting .400 in his last 10 games with six RBI. Naquin, who also doubled in the second, has 14 RBI in his last 25 games since June 4.
Berrios walked a pair with two out in the bottom of the first, giving Ramirez an opportunity to drive in the first run of the game. Ramirez delivered an RBI double into the right field corner that scored Santana for a 1-0 Cleveland lead.
Ramirez entered the game hitting .327 and slugging .986 in 14 games since June 21. Six of those games have included multi-hit efforts.
The Indians open a four-game series against Detroit at 7:10 p.m. tonight at Progressive Field. Adam Plutko (3-1, 4.95) will start for the Tribe, while the Tigers send lefty Daniel Norris (2-8, 4.96) to the mound. Plutko will make his third career appearance and second start against the Detroit. He is 2-0 with a 3.94 ERA in 16 innings against the Tigers.
Norris has faced the Indians nine times in his career, including six as a starter. He owns a 3-2 record against Cleveland with a 4.37 ERA and 37 strikeouts. He started against the Indians June 23 and took the loss, giving up six runs on eight hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings. In seven career appearances, including five starts, at Progressive Field, Norris has compiled a 2-2 record with a 4.34 ERA and 29 strikeouts.
The game will be televised by SportsTime Ohio and air on WLKR 95.3 FM.