MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Triston McKenzie turned in another postseason-worthy performance in another pivotal game for the Cleveland Guardians.
Whether or not this proves to be a tune-up for October, he sure was sharp.
McKenzie pitched seven shutout innings, Amed Rosario hit a two-run homer and the AL Central-leading Guardians held on to beat the Minnesota Twins 6-4 Saturday night.
“The vibe in the clubhouse right now is these are must-win games,” McKenzie said. “Second place in this division doesn’t make the playoffs, so I think that’s all that’s on our mind.”
José Ramírez went 3 for 4 with two runs, a walk and an RBI for Cleveland, which improved to 13-5 in its last 18 road games and stayed 1½ games ahead of Chicago in the three-team division race. Minnesota dropped 3½ games back and fell to .500 for the first time since April 24.
The Guardians, who are 8-5 against the Twins this year, would complete their second series sweep since the All-Star break with a win Sunday. They won all three games at Detroit on Aug. 9-11.
After turning a 7-0 deficit into a one-run loss Friday night, their rally finally halted in the eighth inning with the potential tying run on second base, the Twins again snapped to life late. They trailed 6-0 before a four-run ninth that got tense enough for All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase to be summoned for the final out.
After a sacrifice fly by Gio Urshela, an RBI double by Jake Cave and an RBI single by Luis Arraez — whose two earlier doubles were wasted — Carlos Correa greeted Clase by reaching on an infield single. The errant throw from Ramírez at third base allowed Arraez to score. But after one more hit, by Jose Miranda, Clase retired Max Kepler on a grounder for his 33rd save.
“We’ve got to figure out the end a little better. It’s getting a little hairy there,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said.
McKenzie (10-11) won for the first time in four starts, with six hits and two walks allowed and five strikeouts. The slender right-hander’s breakthrough year has made him a strong candidate to complement two-time All-Star Shane Bieber in a playoff-series rotation if the Guardians can fend off the White Sox and injury-ravaged Twins, who have lost eight of 10.
“The big games is the key. I don’t care who you are, what your ERA is. If you’re a young guy or even a veteran, you pitch in a big game there’s some emotions that take over,” Guardians catcher Luke Maile said. “He came out and dominated.”
Even if the AL Central winner is on track for the worst record of the 12 qualifiers in Major League Baseball’s expanded postseason field, the Guardians are carrying a confidence about them that belies their failure so far to pull away from the pack.
McKenzie had a spring in his step all night as he ended each inning on the mound. First baseman Josh Naylor and second baseman Andrés Giménez pumped their fists upon completion of a double play in the fifth on a grounder by Miranda after the Twins put runners at the corners.
Left fielder Will Benson leaped at the wall in the eighth for a highlight-reel catch on Kepler’s fly ball. In the third, Giménez, shifted into shallow right field, made a diving catch to steal a hit from Kepler to end that inning and strand runners at the corners.
“My immediate thought is, ‘Wow, that’s a hit, maybe a run,’ and then I look over and he’s midair making the catch,” McKenzie said. “I don’t think there’s a better feeling.”
The Twins have scored just 29 runs in nine games this month.
“We’ve got a good team,” Miranda said. “I’d still say we’ve got to take it day by day.”
ALL OVER THE PLACE
Twins starter Chris Archer (2-8) lasted only two innings because of tightness in his right pectoral muscle, and the game spiraled out of control — literally — when Cole Sands relieved for the third. The rookie right-hander threw only 16 strikes in 39 pitches that inning, giving up two runs on four walks and two hit batters — without a hit.
“It’s pretty hard to come back and win those types of ballgames,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said.
The Twins are 1-10 in Archer’s last 11 starts, a span in which he has a 6.35 ERA.
Guardians: RHPs Aaron Civale (forearm inflammation) and Zach Plesac (broken hand) would both be eligible to return to the rotation Wednesday. They went on the injured list Aug. 30.
Twins: 2B Jorge Polanco (knee inflammation), who has missed the last 10 games, could be reinstated from the injured list during the next series, Baldelli said. The Twins have 16 players on the IL.
Guardians: Bieber (9-8, 2.96 ERA) will pitch Sunday afternoon. He’s 5-2 with a 1.79 ERA over his last eight starts.
Twins: Rookie RHP Josh Winder (4-3, 3.77 ERA) is expected to be called up from Triple-A St. Paul to take the mound for the final game of the series.
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