September 24, 2014

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Walk-off homer puts Tribe back in cellar tie with Minnesota

CLEVELAND — Some would say the Indians have nothing to play for, but that wasn’t evident Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field.

On the verge of being swept by Minnesota, Cleveland rallied for its second walk-off win in four games, turning back the Twins 4-3 in 10 innings.

Cleveland Indians right fielder Vinny Rottino makes a leaping catch at the wall on a drive by Minnesota Twins' Chris Herrmann in the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday in Cleveland. (AP PHOTO)

The victory, just the Indians’ third in the last 12 games, left them tied with Minnesota for last place in the Central Division.

With contention no longer an option, Cleveland’s incentive is to break that tie before the season is complete to avoid finishing in the division’s cellar.

“We have to prioritize things,” said manager Manny Acta, whose club owns the worst record in the American League since the All-Star break at 18-47. “We have some guys that need to play and some guys that need to rest, but no one wants to finish last. It’s a pride thing. It just doesn’t sound good.”

A rare quality outing from right-hander Corey Kluber and a bases-loaded single from Casey Kotchman with one out in the 10th sent the Indians on the road with a win.

Kluber lasted six innings, allowing three runs on five hits while striking out five. He didn’t allow a run over the first three innings, surrendering one apiece over his last three, including a go-ahead solo home run to Trevor Plouffe with two outs in the sixth.

Kluber (1-4, 5.36 ERA), a candidate for Cleveland’s rotation in 2013, has allowed four or more runs in six of his 10 starts this season.

“There’s plenty of things to work on,” Kluber said. “Overall, I’m starting to feel more comfortable. I think I’ve done something positive in every start.”

The Indians went scoreless over the first three innings off Twins right-hander Esmerling Vaszquez (0-2, 6.75), who was making just his fourth start of the season.

Cleveland scored twice to go up 2-1 in the fourth on consecutive base hits from Kotchman and Brent Lillibridge. After Plouffe’s homer, the Indians tied the game back up on a two-out single from Jack Hannahan in the sixth.

Both bullpens took over from there to keep the tie preserved, with Cleveland’s relief corps of Cody Allen, Vinnie Pestano, Chris Perez and Esmil Rogers shutting Minnesota out on one hit and a walk over the final four innings.

Shin-Soo Choo got the game-winning rally started with a pinch-hit double off reliever Anthony Swarzak to lead off the 10th. Choo advanced to third on a ground out from Jason Kipnis, with the Twins choosing to walk the next two hitters — Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley — to get to Kotchman.

Kotchman fouled off the first pitch he saw before shooting a grounder up the middle to score Choo with the winning run.

“I was just happy I got a pitch to hit,” said Kotchman, who went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a run.

Roundin’ third

Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was not in the lineup after tweaking his injured right wrist during a swing and leaving Wednesday’s game in the eighth inning. Acta said Cabrera would take batting practice with the team today and that he expected him to play in the series opener with Kansas City.

The Indians are in the midst of auctioning off their radio rights to longtime holder WTAM 1100-AM and WKRK 92.3-FM.

“We have been involved in a bidding process for our radio rights and are encouraged with the progress we have made, but at this time don’t have a finalized deal,” senior director of communications Curtis Danburg said. “I don’t anticipate an announcement coming in the very near future.”

A recent story in Crain’s Cleveland business magazine claimed WKRK was the frontrunner, but recent developments indicate that might not be the case. WTAM has been the Indians’ flagship station since 1998.

 The Indians’ final road trip of the season starts with a three-game series against Kansas City that begins tonight at 8:10. Justin Masterson (11-14, 4.93 ERA) opens the set for Cleveland, opposing RHP Luis Mendoza (7-9, 4.50), while Ubaldo Jimenez (9-16, 5.43) goes for the Indians on Saturday (7:10 p.m.) against LHP Will Smith (5-8, 5.08). David Huff (1-0, 2.61) starts the series finale Sunday (2:10 p.m.), while the Royals counter with RHP Jake Odorizzi (MLB debut).

Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.