July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Tribe Sunday: Cleveland can’t quite give decision away

CLEVELAND — It was an ugly path, but the end result was a thing of beauty for the Indians on Sunday at Progressive Field.

Tried as it did, Cleveland could not drop the series finale to Minnesota, with the Indians stumbling their way to a 3-1 victory over the last-place Twins despite committing four errors and sleepwalking through the majority of the game.

Powering Cleveland was Drew Stubbs, whose two-out home run in the eighth inning snapped a 1-1 tie. The Indians added another run in the eighth on a base hit from Nick Swisher.

“If you would have told me we would be ahead 3-1 after all that happened, I’d say, ‘Go straight to the casino,”’ manager Terry Francona said of the improbable win that kept his team alive in the Central Division and wild-card races. “We put our pitchers in multiple situations where it was difficult. They had runners on base all day and we were throwing the ball around the ballpark. But we kept them off the scoreboard. That says a lot about our pitching.

“It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a heck of a lot better when you win. We know we can’t play like that, but we won and that’s what we came to do.”

It was the fifth win in six games for the Indians, who remained six games behind Central Division-leading Detroit and gained a game on Oakland for the second wild-card spot to sit 1½ games out of a playoff spot.

“Sometimes it’s not always pretty,” said Swisher, who wasn’t charged with an error but botched two plays in the field and was thrown out trying to stretch a double to lead off the seventh inning. “We’ve got a scrappy squad. It was awesome to pick up that win.”

The Indians got the victory because their pitching picked them up all day long.

Left-hander Scott Kazmir bounced back from a sub-par effort his last time out to offer up a sparkling performance over six innings.

Despite his fielders booting the ball left and right, Kazmir, who committed an error on a pick-off attempt, kept the Indians in the game by allowing just a run on seven hits while striking out eight.

Kazmir, who hasn’t logged over 100 innings in the majors since 2010, is at 125 innings through 23 starts for the Indians this year. He labored in his last outing, with the Indians pushing him back in the rotation to give him more down time before starts.

The move appeared to pay off.

“Right out of the chute, he had his fastball and a good change-up,” Francona said. “He was sharp. I think the extra rest was good for him.”

Kazmir concurred and was grateful not to take the hard-luck defeat.

“I felt fresh,” he said. “I was able to locate my fastball and throw some quality pitches.

“We didn’t play our best game. We know that. But to come out of this game with a win was huge.”

Despite traffic aboard, right-hander Cody Allen pitched a scoreless seventh inning before turning it over to setup man Jose Smith and closer Chris Perez, who recorded his 21st save in 25 opportunities.

Perez walked a batter in the ninth, but struck out Trevor Plouffe to end the game.

Pitching carried the day for both squads, with Twins starter Mike Pelfrey allowing just a run despite walking six batters over five innings.

After squandering nearly every opportunity they had through seven innings, Stubbs took matters into his own hands with his ninth homer of the year off reliever Jared Burton.

“That was probably the way we had to score with the way things were going,” Francona said of Stubbs’ homer.

Though it wasn’t perfectly scripted, the Indians leave town on a winning note, providing some momentum for a key nine-game stretch that begins Tuesday. Over the span, Cleveland plays three teams with winning records, traveling to Atlanta and Detroit before coming back home to host wild-card contending Baltimore.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” Swisher said. “We’re in a good spot right now. We’re playing good ball and we’re getting good pitching. I’m really excited to see how we’re going to do.”

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