Cleveland (58-41) won for the eighth time in its last nine games and beat the Blue Jays in their fifth straight meeting this year. It’s the Tribe’s seventh straight road win. The Indians are 13-3 with a .813 winning percentage in July, the best in the majors.
The Indians still trail the Twins by three games in the AL Central Division race, but lead Oakland for the first wild card position by two games.
In Monday’s win, Mike Clevinger pitched seven innings and struck out seven Blue Jays while walking just two on 104 pitches. It was the most pitches Clevinger has thrown since his season debut on April 1 against Chicago.
Clevinger, who spent two months on the injured list with a strained back muscle, pitched without restrictions for the first time since his return.
“It was good to go in there not having to think about the pitch count or anything on your mind,” he said.
Toronto’s troubles started with a pair of unearned runs in the top of the second.
Blue Jays shortstop Freddy Galvis missed stepping on second base on a fielder’s choice grounder by Jake Bauers. Jason Kipnis, who had singled to lead off the frame, was initially called out by umpire Fieldin Culbreth, but the ruling was reversed when Indians manager Terry Francona challenged the play. After a Tyler Naquin ground out, Francisco Lindor made Galvis’ error hurt with a two-run single to center.
Following a stretch of tough outcomes on replay challenges, the Indians are now 11-for-20 on the season, including some big calls that have gone their way in the last week. Francona was pleased to see the Indians cash in on the error.
“When you’re playing good baseball, good teams do things like that,” Francona said. “We got a break, but we took advantage of it.”
Toronto ran into another mistake in the bottom of the second when slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr rifled a base hit down the right-field line and tried to stretch the play into a double. Naquin, hustling into foul territory, made a strong throw to nail the sliding Guerrero at the bag. It was Naquin’s team-leading ninth outfield assist of the season, ranking him second in the American League behind Chicago’s Leury Garcia.
Guerrero’s baserunning blunder cost Toronto dearly as five pitches later Justin Smoak homered to right field, his 16th of the season to trim Cleveland’s lead to 2-1.
Clevinger (4-2, 3.61) made two just two mistakes and Toronto hitters made him pay. Smoak’s home run in the second was just the fourth allowed by the right-hander this season, but Billy McKinnie’s two-run shot down the right field line in the fifth trimmed Cleveland’s lead to 4-3.
But Clevinger got Randal Grichuk to ground into a double play in the fifth and Smoak to bounce into a twin-killing in the seventh as he worked out of trouble.
“A couple times it seemed like he’d get a couple quick outs and almost get over-amped,” Francona said. “But he reeled it back in and got a couple big double plays. I thought he really pitched pretty good.”
Clevinger is 3-0 in his last four starts with a 1.88 ERA. He’s walked just five batters and struck out 34.
“Everything’s in sync,” Clevinger said. “My body’s moving in sync, my mechanics moving in sync and I felt clear-headed. When I get too excited that’s when all the blood’s rushing to my head and I start pulling balls and doing stuff that I wasn’t doing before.”
The Indians answered Toronto’s rally with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth as Naquin collected a leadoff double and scored on an RBI triple by Oscar Mercado. Jose Ramirez delivered a sacrifice fly to left that scored Mercado from third as the Tribe pushed its advantage back to three at 6-3.
Jose Ramirez stayed red hot at the plate in July with a double high off the center field wall that just missed leaving the yard in the third. Ramirez has hit safely in 25 of his last 30 games and entered the game with a .329 average and .993 OPS in 22 games since June 21.
Kipnis reached base four times, including a pair of singles on the eight-year anniversary of his big league debut against the White Sox. He also made a fine leaping grab in short right field off Cavan Biggio to end the game. Catcher Roberto Perez added an RBI double in the fifth.
Mercado took Toronto righty Sam Gaviglio deep in the eighth inning for his eighth home run. He has 62 hits in 54 career games, the most by an Indians rookie since Lindor collected 63 through 54 games in 2015.
The series continues Tuesday as Cleveland sends right-hander Trevor Bauer (9-7, 3.67) to the mound against Toronto righty Aaron Sanchez (3-14, 6.26). The game will air exclusively on YouTube and YouTube TV as part of the MLB Game of the Week package. First pitch is set for 7:07 p.m. You can listen to the broadcast on WTAM 1100 AM and 100.7 FM.
In an April 4 matchup between the same two pitchers at Progressive Field, Bauer walked six and struck out eight in seven no-hit innings before being removed after throwing 117 pitches. The Indians went on to win, 4-1.