MINNEAPOLIS -- Indians manager Terry Francona sat his team down after being one-hit by the White Sox on the eve of a three-game series against the first-place Twins to relay a simple message: "We have  days that we can go to the playoffs. We either have to catch the
MINNEAPOLIS -- Indians manager Terry Francona sat his team down after being one-hit by the White Sox on the eve of a three-game series against the first-place Twins to relay a simple message: "We have  days that we can go to the playoffs. We either have to catch the Twins or stay ahead of Tampa, Oakland or even Boston."
His team has known what's at stake, but maybe a few words from the skipper helped them find a second gear. It took four hours and 16 minutes, but the Indians found a way to get the job done, securing a 6-2 victory in 11 innings Friday night at Target Field.
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"That's a tough game to win," Francona said. "You're on the road, you're one pitch away from going home not happy, and we end up finding a way to win. So that's really good."
Francisco Lindor homered in the third inning to get the Tribe on the board, but the Twins answered with a run in each of the next two frames. That held until Yasiel Puig knotted the game at 2 in the top of the eighth with a sacrifice fly.
All bats were silenced -- on both teams -- until the Indians pulled ahead on a Roberto Perez RBI single in the top of the 11th. Singles by Lindor and Oscar Mercado gave the team some breathing room before Nick Goody came in to pitch a perfect frame.
"It's a lot of fun," Mercado said. "You get headaches because you get so riled up and just watching every single at-bat, it's almost like you're hitting, and it's nerve-wracking and it's awesome to be in that situation. It's exciting, and that's what we've worked for. Every game is a playoff game for us, and we have to treat it like that."
Francona said he wanted to address his players before the trip to Minnesota to erase Thursday's rough game from their memory because he didn't want them dwelling on it heading into a crucial weekend series.
"I just wanted to just say, 'Don't leave anything on the field,'" Francona said. "So we just talked about that for a minute, and how the best way to accomplish what we want to do is by doing it together and caring about each other. There's a lot of teams right now that are playing for jobs for next year. I get it. Our guys are playing for each other. That's supposed to help you."
His team responded in the best way it could. Friday night began with six strong frames from starter Adam Plutko, who allowed two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts. The bullpen, which has been struggling as of late, then put together five scoreless innings to keep the Indians in contention.
"I just wanted to come out and really compete tonight," Plutko said. "Just some of the talks that we've had with Tito and today with everybody, we just really wanted to come out and compete and show everybody what we got. Just because the last couple of games, maybe we were a little bit down, but we wanted to come out strong tonight."
"Tito came in and let us know that this is the group of guys that we're gonna go to battle with every day," Mercado said. "As a team, we're really together. We know that when we're playing together, we can be one of the best teams out there. We just felt like it was good to get that breath of fresh air and to hear that and moving forward, it's playoff game after playoff game."
After taking three of four against Minnesota last month, the Tribe headed back to Cleveland with a share of first place in the American League Central. Since then, the Twins have won 16 of 23, while the Indians have lost 13 of 24 contests. But the victory on Friday moves the Tribe 5 1/2 games behind the Twins.
Although this is much less attainable with three weeks to go in the regular season than the position they were in a month ago, it's not insurmountable given that they will meet five more times in the next eight games.
What's more feasible for the Indians would be sliding into one of the two Wild Card slots. The Rays sit atop the AL Wild Card standings with a one-game lead over the A's, who are a half-game ahead of Cleveland.
"Right now, we have to take every game like Game 7 of the playoffs," reliever Oliver Perez said. "We did a pretty good job today. I'm very proud of everybody, but at the same time, it's over. Tomorrow is another day. So just enjoy it today and be ready for tomorrow, because every game is going to be like Game 7."
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.