MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – One pitch changed the course of the game Tuesday at the start of a critical series between Cleveland and Minnesota.
That’s the way Indians starter Danny Salazar saw it, anyway, after the Twins won 3-1. Salazar thought he had a strikeout to end the third inning, but his full count fastball to Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar was called ball four by home plate umpire Tom Hallion.
Three batters later, Salazar had given up three runs, which was all the Twins needed against the right-hander. Ervin Santana pitched strong into the eighth inning, Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier each had two hits and an RBI from the top two spots in Minnesota’s lineup.
The Twins (77-73) moved within two games of Houston (80-72) for the second AL wild card spot. The Indians (74-75) are two slots behind the Twins, with Los Angeles (77-75) in between. The Angels beat the Astros Tuesday in Houston.
Salazar (13-9) didn’t shy away from voicing his opinion on the one call he felt impacted the outcome.
“Right now, as a team, we can’t be losing games,” Salazar said. “And the umpires know these are really important games. They can’t be missing calls like that.”
One batter after the two-out walk to Escobar, Hicks followed with a triple that left fielder Michael Brantley nearly nabbed with a diving catch, only to have the ball leak out of his glove. Brantley jammed his right shoulder on the play and was eventually replaced in the fourth inning by Michael Martinez.
Dozier and Joe Mauer followed with hustling, sliding doubles to left-center, giving Santana (6-4) and the Twins a three-run lead.
“In the inning they strung hits together, it’s a shame because he probably had Escobar struck out,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “Those are their runs for the night, but it was too much for us.”
Salazar finished six innings with five hits, three runs and three walks allowed. He struck out four. It was the first time in three starts this year against the Twins that Salazar was hit with a loss.
“I could have gone, like, seven, eight innings easily today,” Salazar said. “Because of that bad call, it cost me 20 more pitches and three runs.”
Mauer nearly made a sprawling stop of a sharp grounder down the line at first base to end the fifth inning, but he didn’t handle it cleanly so Jose Ramirez had himself an RBI single. Otherwise, Santana was nearly untouchable.
The Indians and Twins started a stretch of seven games against each other over the next 10 days, with four at Cleveland next week.
The loss for Cleveland means the Indians have alternated wins and losses over their last 10 games and have struggled to find consistency in late September as their wild card hopes continue to fade.
“We’re trying not to think of it,” said Cleveland reliever Jeff Manship, who pitched a scoreless seventh inning against his former team. “Take it day by day, try to come out and just win tomorrow and keep winning. Let whatever happens happen. As long as we keep winning, that’s all we can do.”
Indians: Brantley hurt his right shoulder, presumably diving for the triple by Hicks. The team said Brantley was under evaluation but announced no further details on his condition. Brantley had trouble with his left shoulder last month.
Twins: RHP Ricky Nolasco was expected to rejoin the team Wednesday, ready to pitch out of the bullpen if there’s a role available. Nolasco had surgery on his right ankle July 14. He last pitched May 31.
Indians: RHP Corey Kluber (8-14, 3.44 ERA) will take the mound Wednesday, likely on a pitch limit. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner returned last week from a right hamstring injury and was limited to four innings.
Twins: RHP Phil Hughes (10-9, 4.58 ERA), who made his first relief appearance of the season during the doubleheader Saturday, will start Wednesday. Because of back trouble and general struggles, Hughes hasn’t logged six or more innings in a game since July 24.