When Plutko’s hitters did show, they did not tip-toe onto the scene. No, they took a much more direct route, knocking down the game’s front row on fifth-inning homers by Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor on the way to a 7-2 victory over the Angels.
Kipnis hit a two-run homer and Lindor a three-run blast. It’s unclear what triggered the outburst.
Did emergency reliever Trevor Cahill just run out of gas? When starter Felix Pena was carried off the field with a sprained right knee with two out in the second, Cahill relieved and retired eight of the first nine batters he faced.
Or was it the image of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield being shown on the scoreboard chugging a beer while wearing a Lindor jersey as the crowd of 31,222 erupted? It happened just before the Tribe’s big inning.
Whatever the motivation, it worked.
With the win, the Indians (65-45) remained three games behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central Division standings — and ahead of Tampa Bay and Oakland by two games for the first of the two AL wild card positions.
Cahill (3-7, 6.28) retired Jose Ramirez to start the inning, but Franmil Reyes doubled for the Tribe’s first hit. Kipnis followed with a line-drive homer to right center for a 2-0 lead. It was his 10th of the season.
Catcher Kevin Plawecki, the next man to bat, was hit by a pitch to end Cahill’s night. Justin Anderson relieved and Tyler Naquin singled to move Plawecki to second and turn the lineup over to Lindor in the leadoff spot. Anderson missed with a slider before Lindor sent his 94 mph fastball over the wall in center for a 5-0 lead.
It was Lindor’s 19th homer, 15 coming from the left side of the plate.
Plutko (4-2, 4.55) won for the first time since June 14 against Detroit, a span of five starts and one relief appearance. Plutko allowed one run on five hits in 5 1/3 innings.
He opened with five scoreless innings, holding the Angels to three singles. David Fletcher, a late replacement for shortstop Andrelton Simmons (sore left foot), opened the sixth with a single. It looked like a double, but fast fielding and a faster throw by right fielder Yasiel Puig held him to a single.
Plutko, who threw 66 percent (57-of-87) of his pitches for strikes, retired Mike Trout, but Shohei Ohtani doubled. That was the end of Plutko’s night. Justin Upton’s RBI sac fly off Nick Goody ended the shutout.
Pena was injured covering first base on Ramirez’s grounder to first. Albert Pujols made a high underhand throw to Pena, who was sprinting to cover the bag. He tagged the bag, but went down hard and was carried off the field.
The Indians added two insurance runs in the eighth. Carlos Santana opened the inning with his 24th homer. Ramirez followed with a bloop double to left that third baseman Matt Thaiss got a glove on but couldn’t hold with his back to the plate.
Ramirez reached second and continued to third when the Angels left the base unguarded. Franmil Reyes delivered him with a screaming line drive to center that Trout turned into a routine-looking sacrifice fly for a 7-2 lead.
Right-hander Shane Bieber (10-4, 3.40) will face Angels right-hander Jamie Barria (4-4, 6.28) Sunday in the final game of this three-game series. Game time is 1:10 p.m. with SportsTime Ohio and WLKR 95.3 FM carrying the game.
Bieber is coming off a 2-0 loss to Justin Verlander and Houston. He allowed two runs in seven innings. This will be his second start against the Angels. He beat them last year in August, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings. Barria, coming off a loss to the Tigers, faced the Tribe last August in a five-inning no-decision effort.