CLEVELAND — If the Indians hope to be a participant in October baseball, they need to play more games like Saturday night against the Twins — and lots of them.
In a victory scripted to near perfection, Cleveland evened the three-game series against Minnesota at a game apiece, turning back the Twins 7-1 at Progressive Field.
The Indians got quality pitching, plenty of offense and a dash of top-shelf defense as they try to stay in both the Central Division and wild-card races.
“It’s a good way to play,” said manager Terry Francona, whose team remained six games behind division-leading Detroit and 2½ games out of the American League’s second wild-card spot.
As is often the case, it all started with pitching — Cleveland getting another quality outing from starter Zach McAllister, who allowed just two runs on four hits over 7⅓ innings.
The right-hander has been solid since spending more than a month on the disabled list with a right finger sprain, and especially good over his last three starts — all wins.
“I think he looks like he hasn’t skipped a beat,” Francona said. “Some guys come off the DL and they’re worn down, but he’s strong. He looks really good.”
McAllister (7-7, 3.51 ERA) said the downtime was beneficial to his finger and his pitching approach.
“I actually felt like I was able to make some adjustments during the time off,” McAllister said. “I feel like I’m able to attack the zone pretty well.”
McAllister allowed just a run over the first seven innings, surrendering a solo home run to Brian Dozier with one out in the eighth. By that time, Cleveland’s offense had already done enough damage to make the long ball inconsequential.
Scoring early and often, the Indians built a 7-1 lead through five innings, getting two-run homers from Carlos Santana in the opening inning and Jason Kipnis in the third. Nick Swisher also drove in a pair with a double in the fifth.
“We needed a nice little offensive outing like that,” said Kipnis, whose team squandered a sparkling outing from Ubaldo Jimenez in the series opener Friday night. “The pitchers have been doing the job. We’ve been struggling.”
Kipnis entered the night mired in an 0-for-19 skid, but delivered a single on a hard groundball up the middle in his first at-bat in the first. Michael Brantley also snapped a significant skid at the plate, reaching on a single in the fifth for his first hit in 23 at-bats.
“That was really good to see,” Francona said.
“A lot of it’s mental,” said Kipnis, who homered for the first time since July 21. “You just want to get back to basics.”
With the wind blowing in, Kipnis got under the stream to line a 1-0 pitch from Twins starter Liam Hendriks into Minnesota’s bullpen just over the right-field fence. Santana defied the wind, jolting a towering blast an estimated 413 feet into the lower bowl in right-center.
Santana and Kipnis share the team lead with 16 homers.
“That ball was really hit,” Francona said of Santana’s blast. “The ballpark was playing big tonight. With Carlos, that didn’t matter how much the wind was blowing.”
The Indians have won four of their last five games and eight of their last 12.
Since April 30, Cleveland has posted a 37-20 record at Progressive Field, which accounts for the best home mark in the American League over the span.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Minnesota
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Kazmir (7-6, 4.39 ERA) vs. Pelfrey (5-10, 5.19)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM