MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians don’t want to settle for a series split.
After taking the first two games of the four-game set in Minnesota to tie the Twins atop the American League Central standings, the Tribe dropped Saturday’s contest at Target Field following a near two-hour rain delay, 4-1, to fall one game back.
“No. It’s already important,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said when asked if the loss put extra pressure on Sunday’s series finale. “... But at the same time, we still got [six] games left with them after this. Still got a month and a half left of baseball after this. It’s not life or death, I think. ... Definitely after winning the first two, the statement would be made with winning three instead of just a split. I think there’s more of a statement there.”
Cleveland had a chance to take sole possession of first place in the division for the first time since entering play April 20 with an 11-7 record. Indians starter Adam Plutko gave his team six-plus innings of work, allowing four runs on nine hits, but the offense couldn’t pick him up, going just 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Yasiel Puig’s seventh-inning homer accounted for Cleveland’s lone run.
“This one’s going to sting for me for a while,” Plutko said. “I don’t know. Like I said, this one’s going to sting. Get ’em tomorrow and try to get a win.”
While Twins starter Jake Odorizzi went 2-3 with a 6.34 ERA over his last eight starts before Saturday, he’s been a challenge for the Tribe to figure out all season. The Minnesota hurler has pitched to a 1.06 ERA (allowing two runs in 17 innings) in three starts against the Tribe this year.
“I knew I had to be good,” Odorizzi said. “As long as they don’t score, that’s what my job is -- to keep them out from touching home. ... So there’s times where you need to go into those modes if you know it’s going to be a close game so if it takes more pitches, more pitches is a better route to go than more runs. That’s the way I looked at this outing today and they’re an aggressive team and it’s a must-win game so treat it as such.”
The Indians were able to rack up six hits through Odorizzi’s 5 2/3 innings on the rubber, but failed to get on the scoreboard despite placing a runner in scoring position through each of the first six frames.
“Tip of the cap. I think Odorizzi actually pitched fantastic tonight,” Kipnis said. “I thought he really made his pitches. He followed through with the plan. We clearly see the hole over at shortstop where we want to just maybe hit a ground ball over to it and I was like, ‘OK, give me any fastball away, any offspeed pitch and I’m aiming that way.’ And he goes four fastballs up and in. So, I can’t really do anything with that.”
It wasn’t until the seventh that the Indians got on the board, as Puig sent a projected 455-foot bomb into the second-level concourse in left field for his first homer as a member of the Tribe. Cleveland’s Trade Deadline pickup continues to mash the ball, hitting .378 with three doubles, a triple, a homer and five RBIs in 10 games with his new club. He’s also caught attention for his defense after throwing a runner out at the plate from right field to end the Twins’ two-run fourth inning.
“Puig picked us up for the final out at the plate,” Plutko said, “and luckily we were able to kind of regroup and get back in the dugout.”
The team was able to stop the fourth-inning rally, but couldn’t regroup enough to spark any form of comeback. The Indians left at least 10 men on base for the 20th time this season and second consecutive night. They enter Sunday’s series finale with the opportunity to either take a share of the division lead once again or leave in the same place they arrived in Minnesota on Thursday: two games back.
“Coming into the series, we knew that it was going to be tough,” Indians outfielder Greg Allen said. “It wasn’t going to be easy. They’re definitely not a team to roll over. So we were fortunate to be able to get those first two. They came back tonight and played well, made some big pitches in big situations and from our side, we really didn’t cash in on those opportunities that we could have. Tomorrow’s another day. We look forward to coming out and winning the series.”