It might need someone’s secret decoder ring to read it properly, but the message the Indians wanted to send to the Twins finally found its target.
It came in parts. The first part dealt with the great relay throws by left fielder Tyler Naquin and shortstop Francisco Lindor that cut down Minnesota’s winning run with two out in the ninth inning after a rare blown save by Brad Hand.
“It was actually perfect; I’m not sure you can do it any better,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of the throw sequence. “It was right on line to Frankie, who had to throw a perfect strike — or we’re already on the bus.”
The second part was delivered by Carlos Santana by way of his game-winning grand slam in the 10th inning to give the Indians a 7-3 victory and once again a share of first-place in the AL Central.
The Tribe (71-47) and Twins (71-47) both lead the top AL wild card spot by 2.5 games over Tampa Bay.
Santana hit a 2-1 pitch from Twins closer Taylor Rogers over the wall in left center field to break a 3-3 tie. Kevin Plawecki started the rally with a single, Lindor walked and Greg Allen loaded the bases on a bunt hit.
“That was really ... a lot of adjectives. It was exciting and rewarding,” Francona said. “Brad has picked us up so many times, it was nice to see us turn around and pick him up. I told Greg, if you play the game right, you’ll get rewarded to it. Greg got (the bunt) down and good things happened.”
Rogers has bedeviled the Indians this season. In six previous games, he’d allowed just one run. Saturday night he went two innings to earn the save in the Twins’ 4-1 win. That turned out to be Minnesota’s only win of the four-game series.
“I’m not sure you can ever feel like a guy can hit a home run, but it was bases loaded nobody out and the middle of the order … that’s about the best outcome that could happen,” Francona said. “But Carlos has been out most consistent hitter.”
The Twins, trailing through the first eight innings, rallied for two runs in the ninth against Hand to force extra innings.
Eddie Rosario opened with a double. Hand struck out Mitch Garver, but Luis Arraez lined a single past second baseman Jason Kipnis to score Rosario and make it a one-run game.
C.J. Cron kept the inning going with single to left after a 10-pitch at-bat. Marwin Gonzalez followed with a double to the wall in left field. Arraez scored the tying run, but good relay work by Naquin and Lindor cut down pinch-runner Ehire Adrianza at the plate to save the game.
Hand’s second blown save of the season overshadowed a fine start by rookie Aaron Civale. Backed by some early offense, he held the powerful Twins to one run over six innings. He struck out five, didn’t walk a batter and allowed four hits.
It’s not as easy as Civale makes it look. If it was anyone could arrive in the big leagues, push a button and manufacture three straight quality starts of six innings, one or fewer runs, four or fewer hits, five to seven strikeouts and three or fewer walks.
The first two games went to the Indians by virtue of strong starts by Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber. In the last two games of the series, the pitching advantage moved to the Twins with starters Jake Ordorizzi and Jose Berrios. The Twins won a grinding game Saturday night despite a good effort by Adam Plutko.
Like Bieber and Zach Plesac, Civale is a member of the Tribe’s 2016 draft class. The scouting report says he throws strikes, won’t light up the radar gun and has good movement on his breaking pitches. On Sunday, according to baseball savant.com, he leaned heavily on his sinker and cut fastball.
He topped out at 94.9 mph, while averaging 87.7 mph on all of his 95 pitches.
But the most important thing he did was give the Indians a chance to win this series. After winning the first two games, they did not want to settle for a split. Kipnis said winning the series would send a message. A message the Indians have been contemplating since June 3 when they trailed the Twins by 11.5 games.
Manager Terry Francona, speaking before the game, said he started Allen in center field because rookie Oscar Mercado looked tired. Mercado was also in a 8-for-45 skid, including going 2-for-14 in the first three games of the series.
Good job, indeed.
Allen, with the game one out old, hit a 439-foot homer into the upper deck in right center off Berrios for a 1-0 lead. Santana walked and Yasiel Puig doubled to the fence in left center for a two-run edge. The Indians couldn’t get Puig home, but they’d already doubled their run total from Saturday night.
The Twins came right back with a run in the second to make it 2-1. Rosario doubled off the wall in right center. He went to third on Garver’s fly ball to the track in right and scored on a sacrifice fly by Arraez.
The Indians made it a 3-1 game in the third. Lindor beat the shift with a leadoff double to left. Allen flied out after failing to bunt Lindor to third. Santana picked Allen up with a single through the middle.
Berrios retired the next 11 batters before Kipnis and Franmil Reyes opened the seventh with singles. Tyler Duffey relieved and that’s when the Tribe’s offense misfired. Naquin popped up a bunt attempt behind the plate to Garver. Kevin Plawecki flied out to right as Kipnis tagged and advanced to third just ahead of Marwin Gonzalez’s throw. Duffey walked Lindor to load the bases and Ryne Harper relieved and retired Allen on a soft liner to second.
Nick Goody, Oliver Perez and Adam Cimber kept the margin at two runs before Hand’s struggles in the ninth. Hunter Wood breezed through the 10th to close it out, retiring the top of the Twins order on nine pitches.
The Red Sox visit Progressive Field beginning Monday night for a three-game series. Rookie right-hander Zach Plesac (6-3, 3.13), who debuted against the Red Sox on May 28, will face Boston lefty Eduardo Rodriguez (13-7, 4.17) at 7:10 p.m. Mike Clevinger (7-2, 3.02) and Shane Bieber (12-4, 3.28) are scheduled to start for the Tribe on Tuesday and Wednesday. Lefty Chris Sale (6-11, 4.41) will face Clevinger, but the Red Sox have not named a starter for Wednesday.