MINNEAPOLIS -- Brad Hand and the Indians had just blown a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings, and the guys in the dugout were all saying the same thing: “We’re not leaving here without a win.”
“There’s no time to shake your head or hang it down,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “I think everyone was just like, ‘Hey, this happens. Let’s get over it real fast.’”
They certainly put it behind them quickly. They loaded the bases in the top of the 10th without recording an out to set up Carlos Santana to deliver a go-ahead grand slam that propelled the Indians to a 7-3 victory over the Twins on Sunday at Target Field.
“That was really a lot of adjectives: Exciting and rewarding,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I mean Brad Hand has picked us up so many times, it’s nice to see us turn around and pick him up.”
The Indians entered the series trailing the Twins by two games in the American League Central, and departed Minneapolis on Sunday with a share of first place. The teams will play each other six more times before the end of the regular season.
“I said earlier [that] I didn’t want to split,” Kipnis said. “I wanted to get that extra game. … We were excited. We wanted to come in and get at least three and we did that.”
However, the Indians were close to falling back to where they started when their lead disappeared in the ninth. The club had cruised through eight frames in the series finale. Starter Aaron Civale gave them a stellar six innings, the offense jumped out to an early lead and the bullpen worked through the seventh and eighth to get the ball to their closer in the ninth. But then, the wheels fell off the cart.
The momentum started to turn after Eddie Rosario led off the ninth with a double. Hand was able to bounce back and record a strikeout, but then gave up an RBI single to cut the Indians' lead to one. Then, with runners on first and second, Marwin Gonzalez doubled to left field, easily scoring the tying run from second.
“I mean the first pitch is wacked for a double,” Francona said. “Their second baseman hit a ball hard. If Kip makes that play, there’s two outs and we’re OK. Sometimes we just have a tough inning. They had some pretty good at-bats. I thought he made some real good pitches to Gonzalez. And then he went up and tomahawked one. Sometimes the other team does some good things.”
But in a moment that seemed like a loss for the Indians came a silver lining. The Twins attempted to extend the game-tying double into the game-winning double. Indians left fielder Tyler Naquin and shortstop Francisco Lindor thought otherwise.
“The way the ball was hit, I knew it was either in the air off the wall or at least warning track,” Naquin said. “So I put myself in a good position and was just able to barehand it off the wall, and then put everything I got into it and get it to Frankie’s chest and let Frankie do the rest.”
Lindor turned and fired a perfect strike to the plate in time to cut down the runner attempting to score from first.
“It’s something that me and Frankie take pride in whenever we’re able to link up,” Naquin said. “I mean, it saves games and it just saved a game right there. … When I let it go, I was pretty confident we had him. Frankie, he puts it in a good spot 99 percent of the time.”
Kevin Plawecki went from catching Lindor’s relay throw, to the batter’s box to start the top of the 10th with a leadoff single. Lindor then drew a walk and Greg Allen bunted for a single to load the bases for Santana.
“I don’t know if you can ever feel like a guy is about to hit a home run, but you have bases loaded, nobody out,” Francona said. “We got the middle of the order up. That was about the best outcome that could happen.”
Lindor couldn’t contain his excitement. From the moment the ball left Santana’s bat, Lindor -- standing on second base -- started jumping up and down. He rounded third base, pumping his arm high above his head and pointed to the Indians’ dugout in celebration of the response to the gut punch the Tribe received the previous inning.
“He’s always excited,” Santana said. “Frankie, he’s an emotional guy and the energy is great. It helps the clubhouse. I mean, it’s great to have that emotion in this series. We’re fighting. We’re fighting for the division.”
Santana’s 199th career homer in an Indians uniform handed his club their third win of the four-game set against the Twins.
“It was a fun series,” Francona said. “I think our players enjoyed it. They’re a good team over there. We know that. Now, we’ll enjoy it for a plane ride and then we better get ready, because Boston will be ready for us when we get home.”