MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Cleveland Indians kept their edge in the AL wild-card race. They might've lost their struggling closer.
Reliever Joe Smith struck out pinch-hitter Oswaldo Arcia to stop a ninth-inning rally by Minnesota, and the Indians won their seventh straight game, holding off the Twins 6-5 on Thursday night after Chris Perez gave up four runs in the final frame.
"It didn't go as planned, but the good news is we won, and that's what we set out to do," a rattled manager Terry Francona said. "That got a little closer than we wanted."
Cleveland leads Texas by one game for the second wild-card spot. Each team has three games left in the regular season. Tampa Bay is on top in the chase, one game ahead of the Indians.
Bryan Shaw (7-3) picked up the victory in relief of Zach McAllister by getting five key outs over the fifth and sixth innings. Yan Gomes hit a towering two-run homer off Twins starter Andrew Albers (2-5), and Michael Brantley added three hits and two RBIs from the leadoff spot. The Indians were cruising again until Perez came in for what looked like mop-up duty in the ninth.
But Alex Presley hit an RBI triple, Brian Dozier drove in another run with a groundout, Josmil Pinto hit a two-run homer and suddenly the Twins were within one. Smith entered and gave up an infield single and a walk before fanning Arcia on three pitches for his third save.
Perez has walked a tightrope on and off the field this season, and most of the time he's been in the news it's been negative. The most glaring this year was his arrest for a marijuana delivery to his house. Francona measured his words carefully after the game when asked about Perez's status as the closer, but he hinted at a change.
"You know what? I think we'll always figure out a way to win. That's kind of the way I always view it," Francona said.
Smith, Shaw and Justin Masterton are other options for the ninth-inning role. The manager said Perez poked his head in the office and apologized for his performance.
"We'll see. He felt bad. He was actually very team-oriented. That's what you're looking for," Francona said. "He's having a tough time, and he's owning up to it, and he doesn't want to cost us wins."
Francona added: "We're not a team made of one person. We'll figure it out."
Perez has a 7.52 ERA in August and September, with 30 hits and seven homers allowed in 20 1-3 innings.
"Anytime your closer is struggling a little bit, it's tough," McAllister said. "He's a great pitcher. He's been great for his whole career. You don't become All-Stars for no reason. He knows how to pitch, and he'll be ready."
Page 2 of 2 - McAllister had a shutout intact despite allowing runners on in every inning. After a walk and a single with one out in the fifth, Shaw was summoned and got Ryan Doumit on a double-play grounder.
McAllister gave up six hits and two walks. This was the right-hander's shortest start in September, and the 68 pitches were his second-lowest total of 24 starts this season.
"You definitely want to have that chance to get the win out there and stay in the game as long as you can, but it's September now," McAllister said. "We have a lot of guys in the bullpen, and every game's an important one. So you can't question anything."
Shaw is 5-0 in 13 appearances this month, and hasn't permitted a run in 15 1-3 innings. Francona said he wanted to leave McAllister in but couldn't.
"I just thought it was time. If I'd have been managing with my heart, I would've left him in," Francona said.
The Indians caught quite a break with their September schedule, facing the teams with the three worst records in the league in 14 of their final 17 games: the Twins, White Sox and Astros. The Twins have won a mere four of their last 21 home games since mid-August. They've lost 17 of 22 overall.
The Twins had to watch their opponents celebrate division-clinching wins in each of the last two series, in Oakland and then Detroit here in their own ballpark. They'll have to win a couple of games this weekend to prevent another party at Target Field.
"Like the way they finished and got after it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Just needed one more hit."