MINNEAPOLIS — If the Indians keep this up, they won’t have to worry about anybody else in the American League wild-card race but themselves.
Cleveland won for the seventh straight time Thursday night, opening a crucial regular-season-ending four-game series against Minnesota with a 6-5 victory at Target Field.
The Indians endured another ninth-inning implosion from closer Chris Perez, who allowed four runs. Joe Smith rode to the rescue to get the final out, but not before he gave up and infield single and walk to put the tying run in scoring position and winning run on first.
The win, the Indians’ 12th in the last 14 games, kept them in charge of the second wild-card spot, with Cleveland entering the night owning a one-game advantage over Texas. Tampa Bay maintained its one-game lead over the Indians for the right to host the one-game wild-card playoff.
The Indians exorcised a demon of sorts in beating Twins left-hander Andrew Albers, who tossed a two-hit shutout the last time he faced Cleveland on Aug. 12.
Albers blanked the Indians over the first three innings, but Cleveland caught up to him in the fourth.
An error on a sacrifice bunt from Asdrubal Cabrera allowed Ryan Raburn to score from second base with the game’s first run. Yan Gomes then connected on a two-run home run off the facing of the second deck in right field to stake the Indians to an early 3-0 advantage.
Michael Brantley, who entered the night on a nine-game hitting streak, stayed hot, driving in two of Cleveland’s final three runs with singles in the sixth and eighth innings.
Brantley collected at least two hits and at least one RBI for the fifth straight game, becoming the first Indians player to accomplish the feat since Ryan Garko in July 2007.
Cleveland got an effective outing from starter Zach McAllister, but it was brief, with the right-hander shutting out the Twins on six hits but for only 4⅓ innings.
With the Indians deep in the wild-card race, Terry Francona managed as if it was a playoff game, turning to reliever Bryan Shaw to replace McAllister at the first sign of trouble.
McAllister left with runners on first and second, with Shaw getting a double-play ball on his first pitch to end the threat.
Perez, who has been shaky for much of the season, increased concerns from his latest collapse Tuesday night, when he allowed a pair of solo homers before Jason Giambi bailed him out with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth against the Chicago White Sox.
The right-hander allowed two runs before getting the second out and then served up a two-run homer to Ryan Doumit before Francona removed him in favor of Smith.
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