MINNEAPOLIS — After winning two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona knows a thing or two about October baseball. Getting the Cleveland Indians on the cusp of a playoff appearance in his first year with the team just makes it that much sweeter.
The Indians pulled into a tie atop the AL wild card standings Friday night, pounding out 17 hits in a 12-6 romp over the Minnesota Twins.
“It’s everything you hope for when you go to spring training,” Francona said. “You can’t let yourself get ahead, but the fact that everybody’s tired and we can’t wait to get back here tomorrow, that’s what we’re here for.”
With the win and Tampa Bay’s loss at Toronto, the Indians moved into a tie with the Rays for the two AL wild cards, one game ahead of Texas, which beat Los Angeles. Cleveland has won eight straight and 13 of 15, taking advantage of a schedule that ends with 10 games against Houston, the Chicago White Sox and the Twins, the three worst teams in the AL this season.
Last year the Indians were one of those teams, winning just 68 games and entering the year with low expectations. But after improving to 90-70 on Friday night, Francona wasn’t in the mood to look back on the season just yet.
“There’s time to reminisce when the season’s over. We’ve got to show up in about 10 hours and try to get to 91,” Francona said. “I’m thrilled that we’re playing for what we’re playing for.”
Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera both had two doubles and Jason Kipnis was a homer short of the cycle as the Indians jumped out to a 7-0 lead and knocked out Twins starter Pedro Hernandez (3-3) in the second inning.
“He just had a bad night,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of his rookie left-hander. “They were all over him right from the get-go. Kind of non-stop.”
By the time the second inning was over, the Indians had four doubles and a triple, and the first seven hitters in their batting order had at least one hit.
“I think you just have to give credit to our lineup tonight,” said Indians center fielder Drew Stubbs, who went 2 for 4 with a two-run homer in the ninth inning. “We came out and when we got good pitches to hit we put good swings on them and gave ourselves a pretty good cushion.”
Ryan Raburn singled in two runs in the second, and Mike Aviles added a two-run single in the fifth for the Indians, who went 7 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
Indians starter Corey Kluber (11-5) managed to win his fifth straight decision. He started the game with three scoreless innings, but then allowed 10 of the next 16 hitters to reach and was knocked out with one out in the sixth. Kluber gave up six earned runs and 10 hits, but walked only one and struck out five.
“I felt like mechanically I was there,” Kluber said. “I felt good physically. I think the last couple of innings I just fell behind a couple guys and got a couple balls up.”
The Twins scratched back thanks to Pedro Florimon’s two-run homer in the fifth, and after Alex Presley dumped a two-run single into left field with two outs in the sixth, the Twins had climbed within 9-6.
Five relievers then combined to shut out the Twins over the final 3 2-3 innings. Cleveland right-hander Justin Masterson threw a scoreless eighth as he works his way back from a strained left oblique that sidelined him for three weeks.
The Indians tacked on three more runs in the last two innings, courtesy of an RBI double by Kipnis and Stubbs’ 10th homer of the season, a two-run blast to left that made him the 10th Indian to reach double figures in home runs this year.
“The way the wind was shifting the ball started carrying,” Francona said. “They get to 9-6 and you don’t want to be in a situation where a mistake can cost you a game. The guys kept grinding and that’s good.”
In the end, Francona was left deciding how to spend the few hours between the end of Friday’s 3 1-2 hour marathon and the start of today’s matinee.
“I just want to keep playing. I don’t want to go home. I don’t care where we play, when we play, I just want to keep playing,” he said. “I ought to just sit here and stay in my uni because I’m probably not going to sleep a heck of a lot.”
NOTES: With their 6-5 victory over Minnesota on Thursday, the Indians improved their record in one-run games to 30-17, the best mark in the major leagues. . Twins C Josmil Pinto left the game after being hit on the right hand with a pitch in the fourth inning. Precautionary X-rays were negative and he’s considered day-to-day with a bruised hand. . The Indians will send LHP Scott Kazmir (9-9) to the mound against Minnesota RHP Cole De Vries (0-1) today.