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Milone helps Twins keep pace in Wild Card race

CLEVELAND -- Left-hander Tommy Milone was solid while starting on short notice, while Trevor Plouffe hit a two-run homer off Corey Kluber to help the Twins to a 4-2 win over the Indians on Monday night at Progressive Field.

With their third straight victory, the Twins (81-75) are 1 1/2 games back of the Astros (83-74) for the American League's second Wild Card. The Indians (77-78) fell to five games back of the Astros. Minnesota has six games left, while Cleveland has seven, including a makeup game against Detroit that would only be played if it has postseason implications. With their 81st win, the Twins are guaranteed a non-losing season for the first time since 2010.

"It feels good but we're obviously not finished yet," said Plouffe, who homered as part of a three-run first inning. "We've been battling all season. We've put ourselves in a good position and we're looking forward to these last six games. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Video: [email protected]: Plouffe on his big homer, Milone's start

Milone, starting in place of right-hander Phil Hughes after he was scratched hours before the game with flu-like symptoms, went 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits to get his first win since Sept. 7.

He outpitched Kluber, who lost to the Twins for a second straight start. Kluber allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks over six innings. Kluber is 0-3 with a 6.59 ERA in three starts since coming back from a hamstring issue.

"I don't think that's an excuse," Kluber said of the injury. "I think [I have] just been battling to get a little bit of command since I've come back. It hasn't been spot on and I think that when I have made mistakes, it's been elevated, which obviously plays into a hitter's hand."

Relievers Blaine Boyer, Casey Fien, Glen Perkins and Kevin Jepsen combined to throw 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Milone. Jepsen, who has been dealing with similar flu-like symptoms as Hughes, picked up his ninth save with Minnesota since being acquired from the Rays on July 31.

Video: [email protected]: Jepsen retires Gomes to earn the save

Plouffe, there it is: Plouffe's two-run blast capped a three-run first inning for the Twins against Kluber. Joe Mauer started the rally with a double off the left-field wall before Miguel Sano doubled off nearly the same spot of the wall to score Mauer. Kluber has given up more runs in the first inning (20) than in any other inning this season.

Video: [email protected]: Sano drives double to knock in Mauer in 1st

"When he's trying to get ahead that might be the one pitch you get in that at-bat," Plouffe said. "So we were trying to be aggressive with that tonight and it's worked out the last couple times." More >

Video: [email protected]: Plouffe belts two-run homer off Kluber

The Lindor Show: The Indians' Francisco Lindor, who continues to build on his case for the AL Rookie of the Year, began the game with a highlight-reel backhand grab to retire Brian Dozier on a groundout. In the bottom of the first inning, the 21-year-old shortstop lifted a 3-2 pitch from Milone to the left-field seats for a solo homer (Lindor's 11th long ball on the year). More >

Video: [email protected]: Lindor throws across body to get Dozier

Milone solid on short notice: With Hughes scratched, Milone filled in admirably in his first start since Sept. 17. Milone had been out with shoulder fatigue, but looked sharp in his return. The left-hander was on a restricted pitch count, but was still able to get through 5 2/3 innings on 82 pitches.

"I was just trying to be the same pitcher that I am," Milone said. "I don't feel like I was too far removed at 10 or 11 days. It's like skipping a start. I felt fresh. Everything was feeling good. I think the biggest thing was jumping out to a three-run lead before I threw a pitch. It made it extremely easy to go out there and throw strikes." More >

Quick Kip: All-Star Jason Kipnis opened the home half of the sixth with a triple to the wall in center field, where outfielder Aaron Hicks slipped on the warning track. Kipnis hustled around the bases with an inside-the-park homer in mind, but slid to a stop around third, lost his helmet and scrambled back to third. He pumped his arms and shouted to the dugout, trying to fire up Cleveland's bench. Lindor then brought Kipnis home with a groundout.

"I love the hustle, but I was glad he stopped," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "At that point, we don't need somebody getting thrown out at home, we need a couple of runs. We hung around, and that's what we were trying to do, just to give ourselves a chance. But, it was a quiet night with the bats."

Video: [email protected]: Francona on Kluber's start in 4-2 loss

"I haven't thought about that a lot. But to reverse a four-year losing trend is a good thing. There will probably more reflection on that after the season because we're obviously still trying to win games to see if he can make it interesting." -- Twins manager Paul Molitor, on snapping their streak of four straight losing seasons

"He's out there because he knows we're still in it, we still have a chance and he wanted to be a part of it. He thought he was good enough to go and I'll tell you what, I'll take him at 80 percent over a lot of guys at 100 percent. You tip the cap, because he's fighting through it not all healthy. But, at this time, not many people are healthy. He's a competitor." -- Kipnis, on Kluber

When Kluber struck out Eddie Rosario to end the first inning, it gave the Tribe ace an even 500 strikeouts over the past two years combined. Kluber is the first American League pitcher to have at least 500 punchouts in a two-year span since Johan Santana did it with the Twins from 2004-05. Kluber is the first Indians pitcher to accomplish the feat since 1969-70 (Sam McDowell) and the first right-hander to do it for Cleveland since 1940-41 (Bob Feller). Kluber also collected his 700th career strikeout when he set down Eduardo Escobar in the sixth. More >

Video: [email protected]: Kluber fans Escobar for 700th strikeout

With no outs and runners on first and second in the second inning, Indians catcher Yan Gomes caught a pitch from Kluber and came up firing to second base. Torii Hunter, who was on second, dove back to the base and was initially called safe. Francona challenged the ruling, which was overturned following a quick, 37-second replay review. Shortstop Jose Ramirez applied a tag on Hunter just before the Twins veteran could touch the bag.

Video: [email protected]: Gomes fires strong throw to pick off Hunter

Twins:Right-hander Kyle Gibson (10-11, 3.96 ERA) starts for the Twins in the second of the four-game series on Tuesday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Gibson is coming off a tough outing against the Indians, as he lasted 2 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on seven hits.

Indians: Rookie right-hander Cody Anderson (6-3, 3.31 ERA) is scheduled to take the ball for the Tribe in another crucial tilt on Tuesday night against the Twins at 7:10 p.m. ET. Over his past six outings, the big righty has gone 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA and .225 opponents. average in 36 1/3 innings.

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Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Miguel Sano, Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone, Corey Kluber, Trevor Plouffe, Francisco Lindor