CLEVELAND — A winless West Coast road trip at the end of April that left the Indians reeling and in last place in the Central Division seems like a distant memory.
Cleveland bounced back from the tumultuous time away from home with a productive seven-game homestand that was capped Thursday afternoon by a resounding 9-4 victory over the Twins that gave the Indians the series and their first three-game winning streak of the season.
“We needed this homestand. That’s exactly what we needed,” said Justin Masterson, who notched his second win of the season in Cleveland’s fifth victory on the homestand.
“I don’t think we were down too far but it’s never fun to get swept in two series on the road. To come home and take care of business like we were supposed to … I think that will hopefully carry into this next series, ’cause there’s a lot of momentum with the guys at the plate and guys are still pitching pretty good, too.”
The Indians got a little bit of pitching — and a lot of hitting — to dispatch Minnesota, which took Cleveland’s spot in last place in the Central Division.
The Indians scored single runs in the first two innings, one on a home run from Asdrubal Cabrera, then went up 4-0 with two more in the fifth.
The Twins scored four times off Masterson over the sixth and seventh, but Cleveland matched that output in the bottom of those innings.
“We came out and the weather was warm. You could tell the guys had a ton of energy,” manager Terry Francona said. “We swung the bats. We ran the bases. Masty came out the first four innings and was real crisp and real clean.”
Masterson (2-1, 3.86 ERA) allowed four runs (two earned) on four hits and four walks, while striking out seven over 6⅓ innings. The right-hander allowed just a hit — and three total baserunners — over the first five innings, striking out the side in the second and two of the three batters he faced in the fourth.
“He was in total control the first five (innings),” Francona said.
Pitching was on display for the Indians throughout the successful homestand. In seven games, Cleveland’s rotation posted a 1.94 ERA, limiting opposing hitters to a .198 batting average.
“Our pitching gave us a chance every single game and that’s a good way to play,” Francona said. “I think we believe that we’re going to hit, and hitters go up and down, for sure, but when you pitch that consistently, you always have a chance to win.”
“It’s been huge. It’s been our biggest key,” said left fielder Michael Brantley, who extended his hitting streak to a team-high eight games “They come out every day and give us a chance.”
But it was offense that played the starring role for Cleveland on Thursday, with four players — Brantley, David Murphy, Cabrera and Mike Aviles — each recording at least three hits.
The production from Cabrera was surprising. The two-time all-star entered the day batting just .215 and struggling mightily with runners in scoring position — .143 (7-for-49) — but went 4-for-5 with three RBIs.
Both Cabrera and Brantley fell a triple shy of the cycle, even though it appeared Cabrera had actually achieved the rare feat during his final at-bat in the eighth inning. He lined a pitch into right field that got by Minnesota’s Chris Herrmann, but it was ruled that Cabrera advanced to third on the throw home in an attempt to nail Murphy at the plate.
Despite the big win and Cabrera enjoying his best game of the season, he declined to comment after the game, waving away reporters in the clubhouse and telling them not to wait for him.
“We’ve been doing a great job of picking (Cabrera) up as a team,” Brantley said, “making sure he knows we’re still in his corner, ‘keep working, keep fighting.’ He’s been working his tail off in the cages, early work, we’ve been watching. It’s good to see it pay off and it’s going to continue to pay off. He’s a great player.”
Cleveland’s win-filled homestand didn’t pay off much in the division standings, with the first-place Tigers saying hot for much of the span. But the Indians are playing better as they hit the road for what they hope will be a more fruitful trek.
“We’re still inconsistent with some things, but we’re doing a lot of things better than we were,” Francona said. “I think we’re playing with a little more confidence, a little more purpose. There’s just a little better feel. It definitely feels better.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. Tampa Bay
WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
PITCHERS: Kluber (2-3, 3.60 ERA) vs. Odorizzi (1-3, 6.83)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM