June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Lee leads way to another win


Staff Writer

CLEVELAND — The Indians did what they normally do when Cliff Lee is on the mound – win.

With Lee at the forefront once again Friday night, Cleveland won for the first time in three games, holding on to beat the Twins 5-4 in front of 33,512 fans at Progressive Field.

The American League Cy Young contender allowed just two runs on six hits over eight innings, while reaching double-digits (10) in the strikeout department for the second time this season.

Another sparkling performance from Lee (14-2, 2.29 ERA) helped the Indians to their eighth win in 11 games for a club that is 11 games under .500 but 15-5 when the left-hander pitches.

“Cliff was outstanding again,” said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. “He’s been very consistent. When he goes out there, he’s obviously pitching with a great deal of confidence, and that’s taken him a long way this year.”

Second-place Minnesota, which is keeping the Central Division race a tight one, lost for the fifth straight time to fall 3½ games behind the front-running White Sox.

“If you get behind Cliff Lee early, you’re in trouble,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team trailed 5-0 after two innings.

Lee notched his third straight win, allowing two runs or less for the 15th time in 20 starts. In his last nine starts since June 9, Lee has allowed more than two runs just once.

But thanks to another dismal performance from the bullpen, Lee’s effort nearly went for naught.

No lead has been safe for Cleveland starters, with Lee’s 5-2 advantage through eight innings almost evaporating in the ninth after closer Masa Kobayashi entered to start the inning.

Kobayashi allowed a leadoff single to Joe Mauer, followed by a two-run home run to Justin Morneau that pulled the Twins to within a run. A double from Delmon Young sent Kobayashi to the dugout, with Wedge calling on lefty Rafael Perez to ride to the rescue.

With no outs and the winning run in scoring position, Perez complied, retiring three straight to end the game with Young still stuck on third. The final out was a hard grounder from Nick Punto that got through Perez’s legs, but was stabbed by second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, who threw on the run to get Punto.

It was the first save of the season for Perez and the second of his career.

“That was pretty impressive,” said Lee, who didn’t leave the dugout until Perez had secured the victory. “Getting out of that without giving up a run, that’s pretty hard to do.”

Kobayashi, who blew his third save opportunity in nine chances, was coming off an outing in which he struck out the side to earn the save against the Angels on Monday.

“It just didn’t look like he had it,” said Wedge, who indicated that Kobayashi would remain in the closer role but that Perez would also get save opportunities.

Perez secured the win for Lee, who allowed just a run on three hits through the first five innings, retiring seven of the last eight batters he faced – four on strikeouts.

“I was pretty efficient, throwing strikes and working ahead in the count,” said Lee, who threw 108 pitches — 80 of them strikes. “When you do that, they have to swing the bat.

“I’m just going to try and continue doing what I’m doing, and hopefully things keep going this way for me.”

Lee got sufficient backing from his offense, which appeared as though it would make quick work of Twins starter Livan Hernandez.

A pair of sacrifice flies and a two-run double from Kelly Shoppach put the Indians in front 4-0 in the opening inning, with Franklin Gutierrez’s first home run since May 27 to lead off the second upping the advantage to five.

Hernandez settled in from there, shutting the Indians out on six hits the rest of the way.

“We created a lot of opportunities for ourselves, but we were one hit away,” Wedge said. “A hit here and a hit there, that’s three or four more runs.”

Indians second baseman Jamey Carroll left the game in the top of the eighth inning with a mild hamstring strain, but the Twins might have suffered a more serious blow.

Center fielder Carlos Gomez left the field in a golf cart after chasing down a drive from Ben Francisco and crashing into the wall in the opening inning. He suffered a lower back injury and was taken to Lutheran Hospital, but returned to the Twins clubhouse after the game.

The Indians are expected to make a move today to clear room for tonight’s starting pitcher, Fausto Carmona. They are likely to demote a starter, either Matt Ginter or Aaron Laffey.

Assenheimer may be reached at cassenheimer@chroniclet.com or 440-329-7137.