CLEVELAND — The Indians entered their series against Minnesota with the opportunity to bury the Twins in the Central Division race.
Through the first two games, Cleveland has brought its shovels.
Thanks to a 6-5 victory on Tuesday, the Indians can complete the sweep tonight, which would leave the pesky Twins choking on their first-place fumes, 8½ games back in the division standings.
Minnesota nearly doubled Cleveland’s hit output (13-7) in Game 2, but the Indians made theirs count more, getting a pair of home runs from Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore to account for half of the scoring output.
Hafner’s homer, his 125th as a designated hitter, tied him with Andre Thornton for the franchise lead in career homers at the position.
“We didn’t get too many hits but we were efficient,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, whose team won its fourth straight game — ninth in the last 12 games — and lead the second-place Tigers by 3½ games, Cleveland’s largest lead since June 5. “A lot of different people contributed.”
That included starting Jake Westbrook, who continued his string of effective outings by allowing three runs on 10 hits through 62/3 innings to win for the fourth time in five decisions.
“I got some help tonight,” Westbrook said. “The offense came to play. I had a three-run lead. I gave it up and they gave it right back to me. That’s the sign of a good team.”
Backed by a 3-0 lead after three innings — two on Hafner’s first-inning home run off Twins starter Boof Bonser — Westbrook shut out the Twins through four innings.
Minnesota got all of its runs off Westbrook to tie the game in the fifth on four consecutive one-out singles — the last from Torii Hunter, who was thrown out after rounding the first-base bag too far.
Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-out single in the bottom of the inning gave the Indians the lead back for good, with Rafael Perez retiring Justin Morneau with runners on first and third for the final out in the seventh to keep Westbrook’s win intact.
“Perez getting that out in the seventh was as big as anything,” Wedge said.
Since scuffling upon leaving the disabled list, Westbrook has begun to put it together, allowing no more than three runs in six of his last seven outings.
“I think for me, I’ve just been a little more consistent with my delivery,” Westbrook said. “The past four or five outings, I’ve just been real consistent. Hopefully I can ride it out the rest of the season.”
The Indians scored twice in the eighth on a hit from Ryan Garko and a sacrifice fly from Jhonny Peralta — runs that ended up looming large, thanks to another white-knuckle performance from closer Joe Borowski in the ninth inning.
Borowski allowed a leadoff homer to Brian Buscher — the first of his career — before retiring Nick Punto for the first out and surrendering a bunt single to Jason Tyner.
That’s when things got strange.
Jason Bartlett followed with a grounder down the third-base line that skimmed off the bag and shot through the legs of Casey Blake, leaving the game-tying run on second after a sacrifice fly from Hunter.
Borowski got his American League-leading 38th save by striking out Morneau looking at a 1-2 pitch, but it did little for the psyche of the right-hander, who has endured a number of tough-luck outings that have contributed to his bulky 5.64 ERA.
“Pretty much anything that can happen, has happened,” said Borowski, who also had a pivotal double-play ball hit an umpire in a previous outing. “I’ve come to the realization that statistically, I’m going to have to wear it.
“As long as we save it, that’s all I care about.”
Ditto for his manager.
“He got the job done, that’s the bottom line,” Wedge said. “It’s an end-result job.”
The end result could come today for the Twins.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Minnesota
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Sabathia (14-7, 3.38 ERA) vs. Santana (14-9, 2.97)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM