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Twins homer late to halt Tribe's win streak at 6

MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Max Kepler was not in the Twins' starting lineup for Thursday's nightcap of a twin bill against the Indians. An injury forced him into the mix and Kepler's late go-ahead home run fueled a 4-2 victory, which ended Cleveland's six-game winning streak and run of 10 straight wins at Target Field.

The Indians lead the American League Central by 5 1/2 games over the idle Royals and six over the third-place Twins, who earned a split of the doubleheader after dropping a 9-3 decision in Game 1.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Max Kepler was not in the Twins' starting lineup for Thursday's nightcap of a twin bill against the Indians. An injury forced him into the mix and Kepler's late go-ahead home run fueled a 4-2 victory, which ended Cleveland's six-game winning streak and run of 10 straight wins at Target Field.

The Indians lead the American League Central by 5 1/2 games over the idle Royals and six over the third-place Twins, who earned a split of the doubleheader after dropping a 9-3 decision in Game 1.

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"Kepler got an opportunity to get that one back," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "So give one to get one, I guess."

Kepler entered in third as a pinch-hitter for Robbie Grossman -- who sustained a fractured left thumb early in the game -- and launched a solo shot off Tribe right-hander Mike Clevinger, who took the loss, in the seventh inning. That homer also served as a bit of redemption for Kepler in the process.

In the top of the seventh, Kepler slipped and tumbled to the grass while in pursuit of a hit off the bat of Carlos Santana. The ball bounced to the wall to give Santana a triple that scored Edwin Encarnacion from first base, tying the game at 2. That blunder cost Twins rookie Aaron Slegers a win in a strong Major League debut.

"Right before that, [Kepler] was talking to me and said, 'I'm going to get this back, just watch,'" Buxton said. "Sure enough, next at-bat, he went up there and was locked in. Got a good pitch to hit."

Video: CLE@MIN: Slegers tosses 6 1/3 strong frames in debut

Slegers held the Indians to two hits in 6 1/3 innings. That represented the longest outing for a Twins pitcher in his MLB debut since June 19, 2014, when Yohan Pino went seven. One of the runs off Slegers came courtesy of Jay Bruce's first homer with the Tribe, his 30th overall on the season.

"He kind of leveraged the ball downhill and he dotted a lot of fastballs," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Slegers. "He pitched with a lot more maturity than you would think maybe a kid making his first start [would]. He located his fastball and it wasn't straight. It had some cut and run to it. He mixed in a little changeup and breaking ball.

"I give him credit. I think we were dragging a little bit, but give the kid credit. He pounded the zone like the scouting report said. He did a good job."

Video: CLE@MIN: Belisle fans Santana to lock down the save

Trevor Hildenberger got the win, while Matt Belisle earned his third save, striking out Encarnacion and Santana for the final two outs with an inherited runner on first in the ninth.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Escobar delivers: The Twins struggled with the bases loaded during both games of the twin bill. Eduardo Escobar broke through with the bags full in the third, however, with an RBI single. Escobar smacked an 0-1 cutter from Ryan Merritt into right, which allowed Brian Dozier to score. Minnesota came up empty with the bases loaded and one out the previous inning and did the same with two out in the sixth. In Game 1, the Twins loaded the bases with none out in the opening frame and were unable to score.

Video: CLE@MIN: Escobar opens the scoring with an RBI single

"We didn't make it any easier on ourselves, it was a tough series as far being able to deliver runs," Molitor said. "We had plenty of chances, but had just enough to win that game. It's the old 1-9 is better than 0-10 kind of deal."

Important insurance: Having run through nine pitchers already in the doubleheader, Francona opted to hand the ball to starter Trevor Bauer with one out and runners on first and second in the eighth inning. Bauer quickly induced a flyout off the bat of Miguel Sano, but Escobar followed with an RBI double that padded the Twins' lead.

Video: CLE@MIN: Escobar rips an RBI double to right field

QUOTABLES
"We had a lot of guys on today. We did a really good job of limiting their runs for how many baserunners we had. We didn't have to use a ton of our relievers and over-use them. Everybody, all of them, will be available tomorrow. That's not usually the case coming out of a doubleheader." --Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway, on the state of the pitching staff

"I knew the team has been making a huge surge in the Wild Card, it's a little larger stage than the Wild Card race we have going in Triple-A." -- Slegers, on mindset of pitching in a Major League playoff race

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
According to STATS LLC, the 28 strikeouts by the Indians' pitching staff on Thursday marked the third-highest total in MLB history for a doubleheader with no extra-inning games. The Mets hold the record with 30 on Oct. 3, 2015, against the Nationals, who actually rank second on the list with 29 in the same twin bill two years ago. The White Sox had 29 on May 27 earlier this season in a doubleheader against the Tigers.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Twins elected to use their challenge on a play at the plate in the third inning. With the bases loaded and none out, Eddie Rosario hit a chopper to Indians first baseman Santana, who stepped on the bag and threw out Joe Mauer at home. Catcher Roberto Perez appeared to place the tag just before Mauer's foot crossed home plate. The call was ruled to stand.

Video: CLE@MIN: Santana turns clutch DP, call stands in 3rd

In the fifth inning, the Indians challenged a safe ruling on a pickoff attempt by Clevinger. Santana gloved the throw and made a quick tag on Escobar as he dove back to the bag. After a review, the call was ruled to stand. Clevinger then struck out Byron Buxton to end the inning.

Video: CLE@MIN: Escobar ruled safe at first, call stands

WHAT'S NEXT
Indians: Ace Corey Kluber (11-3, 2.71 ERA) continues his AL Cy Young Award candidacy on Friday at 8:15 p.m. ET, when the Indians open a key three-game set with the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Kluber, who has not faced Kansas City this year, is 8-1 with a 1.85 ERA and 151 strikeouts against 17 walks over his last 14 starts (102 1/3 innings).

Twins: Right-hander Ervin Santana (12-7, 3.27) is slated to start the series opener at 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday against the D-backs at Target Field. In his last start, Santana allowed four runs (two earned) across five innings against the Tigers. He is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in four career starts vs. the D-backs.

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Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Shane Jackson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Minneapolis and covered the Twins on Thursday.