MINNESOTA: The best way to quiet talk of who will be closing games for the Indians is to put on an offensive show and to tie for the lead in the American League wild-card race.
The Tribe did both Friday night.
The offense scored seven runs in the first two innings against Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Pedro Hernandez en route to a 12-6 victory at Target Field.
The victory, coupled with the Tampa Bay Rays’ 6-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, pulled the Indians into a tie with the Rays in the American League wild-card chase. The Texas Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels 5-3 to remain one game back.
Four extra-base hits against Hernandez produced four runs in the first inning with doubles by Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera and a triple by Jason Kipnis.
After Hernandez gave up a walk and two singles in the second inning, Hernandez was lifted after facing 11 batters. The Indians pushed their lead to 9-1 when Mike Aviles drove in two runs with a fifth-inning single against reliever Liam Hendriks.
But the Twins made it interesting.
Indians starter Corey Kluber, who entered the game with a 3-0 record in his four previous starts this month, managed to pick up his fourth win Friday but not without a huge hand assist from the hitters.
After cruising through the first three innings, the Twins started to chip away with an RBI single by Trevor Plouffe in the fourth inning. They added two more runs in the fifth via Pedro Florimon’s two-run home run to right field, then pulled to within three runs with a three-run sixth inning.
After Kluber struggled to get out of the fifth, it was a bit surprising to see Indians manager Terry Francona bring him back out to face the Twins in the sixth inning, but Francona does need to save the Tribe bullpen.
Francona’s move didn’t pay off. Kluber got the first out, but then proceeded to load the bases. Francona called on reliever Rich Hill to protect a 9-3 advantage.
Hill quickly got Florimon to ground out, trading an out for a run. But Alex Presley followed with a single to center field that pushed across two more runs and pulled Minnesota within 9-6.
With Hill allowing his three inherited runners to score, Kluber finished the night with six runs on 10 hits over 5⅓ innings and the Indians tiptoeing the line of needing a closer on the night after all.
Kipnis’ run-scoring double handed the Tribe a huge eighth-inning insurance run to push their advantage back to four runs.
In the bottom of the inning, Justin Masterson made his second relief appearance since returning from a strained oblique. After walking the first batter he faced in the eighth inning, he struck out the next three Twins looking.
In the ninth, the Tribe put to rest the question of whether someone would need to step up and close. First, Drew Stubbs yanked a two-run homer to left-center field to put the Indians’ advantage back to six runs.
Reliever Matt Albers shut out the Twins in the bottom of the inning.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com.