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Tribe explodes for 4 HRs in series opener

@MandyBell02
June 5, 2019

CLEVELAND -- It’s hard to imagine a team facing a must-win series as early as the beginning of June, but the Indians entered Tuesday night knowing exactly what was at stake against the first-place Twins. Francisco Lindor was ready to lead the way. The Tribe’s shortstop sparked his offense with

CLEVELAND -- It’s hard to imagine a team facing a must-win series as early as the beginning of June, but the Indians entered Tuesday night knowing exactly what was at stake against the first-place Twins.

Francisco Lindor was ready to lead the way.

The Tribe’s shortstop sparked his offense with a three-hit, two-home run evening at Progressive Field that helped lead the Indians to a 5-2 victory in the series opener against Minnesota. The victory moved Cleveland to 10 1/2 games out of the top spot in the American League Central with two games remaining in the series.

Box score

“He’s a catalyst,” Indians starter Shane Bieber said. “We’ve got a few guys like that. What he did tonight is pretty special and it really lifted us up.”

Lindor started the night with a solo shot in the third before logging his 10th career multihomer game (second of the year) on a two-run blast in the fifth that gave the Indians a two-run lead. In his last 27 games, he’s hitting .346 with six homers and 16 RBIs.

“He hit the ball the other day three times to the opposite field with authority,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I just think that’s such a good sign. … He needed to get some at-bats and everything, but now he’s starting to look like Frankie.”

Lindor has hit safely in eight or his last nine games, batting .412 with three homers, three doubles, eight RBIs and eight walks. His two blasts and a double on Tuesday was the sixth time in his career he recorded three or more extra-base hits.

“To be honest, I’m not doing it by myself,” Lindor said. “I could hit .500 and there’s always going to be a guy doing something to help the team win. … It don’t matter how good I hit, there’s always someone that’s gonna do something to help us win. That’s what a team is all about.

“On a daily basis, everybody tries to chip in to win ballgames, and if that day it was me, that’s great. Awesome. But at the end of the day, I know I got a great group of guys that are competing to help the team win day after day, and I’m counting on them.”

The Indians have struggled against divisional opponents this season, losing 13 of their first 21 matchups prior to their meeting with the Twins on Tuesday, which accounted for a 6 1/2-game swing in the standings. But the Tribe played with an enthusiasm that had rarely been present so far this season that set off a much-needed trigger in the offense.

“I feel like we just had a lot of fun tonight,” Bieber said. “Felt like we played together and really put together a complete ballgame. [We] played with a lot of energy, and obviously those home runs will do that. Credit to the offense for doing that. They did a great job.”

Even after Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario quickly responded with a solo shot of his own in the sixth off Bieber, the Tribe’s offense continued to roll. In the seventh, Roberto Perez and Jake Bauers went back-to-back, as Perez’s blast was his farthest-hit bomb in the Statcast Era (since 2015) at 439 feet. He matched his career high with eight homers in a season.

“For me to hit a ball 439, I’d have to start from the mound,” Lindor said. “It’s fun to watch. He got everything. He was telling me he just missed the 3-1 pitch the previous at-bat. It’s fun.”

The Tribe’s power surge helped back another strong outing from Bieber, who went seven frames, allowing two runs on two solo homers with seven strikeouts. Then closer Brad Hand was be able to remain perfect in his save opportunities this season, recording his 17th of the year, as the Indians try to chip away at the Twins’ division lead.

“I mean, I know we’re far from first place right now,” Lindor said. “It’s inevitable to see how many games out we are of first place, but it don’t matter. … We still got a long way to go to play. We just got to take it day by day. Don’t take anything for granted. Be blessed to be healthy, blessed to be out there on a daily basis, so let’s take advantage of that.”

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.