CLEVELAND — Wins have been few and far between for the last-place Indians out of the gate this season. So have timely hits.
Cleveland got both of them Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
With the game tied and two outs in the ninth inning, second baseman Mike Aviles shot a base hit through the middle to score Asdrubal Cabrera with the winning run, sending the Indians to a 4-3 victory over the Twins — and their first walk-off win of the year.
“That was nice. We needed that,” said manager Terry Francona, whose team produced 11 walk-off wins in 2013. “We hung in there. They came back and tied it, but we didn’t let them take the lead. And we’re playing at home. When you get to hit last, you always feel like you have a chance.”
The Indians led 3-1 before Minnesota tied it with two runs in the seventh inning off Cleveland starter Danny Salazar. That set the stage for the heroics in the ninth.
Cabrera, who has been one the Indians’ biggest slumpers, started the final half inning by sending a drive to left field that Eduard Escobar misplayed into a double. A sacrifice bunt from Lonnie Chisenhall moved Cabrera to third, but Yan Gomes grounded out on the first pitch, with Cabrera unable to score.
Aviles looked fooled on a 1-1 pitch from Casey Fien, but went down and got it, slapping it through the box and into center field to touch off the celebration.
Salazar (1-3, 5.65 ERA) didn’t get a decision, but the right-hander who started slowly this season, continues to improve outing-to-outing. He lasted 6 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits and a walk, while striking out seven.
Salazar surrendered just a run over the first six innings, as Cleveland built a lead on a two-run double from Michael Brantley in the third and a solo home run from Gomes to lead off the fifth.
“He was pretty good,” Francona said of Salazar, who retired seven of the first eight hitters he faced. “They were really trying to be aggressive on his fastball, but he mixed it up enough and he competed like crazy.”
“I tried to attack the zone and I think I did pretty well,” Salazar said.
The Indians committed their 34th error in their 34th game, but the majors’ worst defensive team more than made up for it with a number of fielding gems throughout the night.
Carlos Santana produced a personal highlight reel, making a number of diving plays on grounders to third, while going into the stands to snare a foul ball from a fan to end the ninth inning with runners on first and second. Santana also made a bare-handed play and nice throw to retire the first batter of the game, Brian Dozier, on a bunt.
“Santana was doing magic with his glove,” Salazar said
Brantley recorded his American League-leading fourth outfield assist to cut down Chris Colabello trying to stretch a double in the second inning, and center fielder Nyjer Morgan leapt against the wall to rob Josmil Pinto of extra bases to lead off the third.
“It’s hard to chart, but I think we took maybe five or six hits away,” Francona said. “Defensively, we did a lot of good things.”
Still, with everything that went right for the Indians, there was a chance it would go wrong in the end. Aviles insured that wouldn’t happen.
“The way things have been going, they haven’t gone as planned,” Aviles said of his team’s early-season struggles. “We know we have a good team and what we are capable of doing and hopefully it helps us get rolling in the right direction.”
“That’s going to bring a little more harmony to the team,” Salazar said of the walk-off win. “We’ve been playing really good these last couple games, so I know we’re going to keep doing that.”