CLEVELAND — Johan, Schmohan.
Making history by beating Twins ace Johan Santana three times in one season was not enough for the Indians. They had to make it four.
Getting to Santana early was the prescription for another precedent-setting victory over the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Wednesday night, with the Indians completing a three-game sweep of Minnesota via a 4-3 decision.
Cleveland scored all of its runs in the opening inning off Santana, who allowed a career-high 10 hits to fall to 0-4 with a 4.09 ERA in five starts against the Indians this year.
The Indians became the first team to beat Santana, a seven-year veteran, three times in a season when they turned back the Twins 5-2 at the Metrodome on Aug. 3. He went 3-0 over his next four starts before they hung another milestone defeat on him in front of 27,303 fans at Jacobs Field.
“It’s nothing you would ever expect,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “He’s one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. It was very unusual to come out and score early against Santana.”
The win — the Indians’ fourth straight and their 10th in the last 13 games — left the third-place Twins trailing Cleveland by 81/2 games in the Central Division standings. Second-place Detroit is 4 1/2 games off the Indians’ pace.
“I feel like our guys are moving in the right direction,” said Wedge, whose offense has come to life after struggling for much of the second half. “There’s some good things happening. We just have to keep pushing, not get complacent with anything and keep going.”
The Indians won the game with a four-run first off Santana that featured a pair of home runs from Asdrubal Cabrera and Victor Martinez, who were among the first four batters to face the Twins’ ace. Santana allowed hits to six of the nine hitters that came to the plate in the opening inning.
Cabrera’s surprising surge continued, with the rookie joining Franklin Gutierrez and Chris Gomez with multi-hit games in the first matchup of his career against Santana. He is hitting .316 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 16 games — 12 after replacing Josh Barfield as the starting second baseman.
“I’m just trying to do what I know how to do,” Cabrera said through an interpreter.
The run support was both surprising and sufficient for Cleveland starter C.C. Sabathia, who won for just the second time in eight outings, despite allowing just 16 runs in 56 innings over the span.
“It almost relaxed me too much,” said Sabathia, who allowed two runs on seven hits over six innings. “It feels good to sweep these guys and let them know we’re for real.
“We haven’t been able to put together a stretch where we hit and pitch at the same time. Hopefully this is it.”
Sabathia, who improved to 15-7 with a 3.37 ERA, became the first big league pitcher to reach the 200-inning plateau, leading the majors with 203. He is the first Indians pitcher since Orel Hershiser in 1996 to allow two runs or fewer in six straight starts.
There were few tense moments in the ninth inning for closer Joe Borowski, who made Sabathia’s effort stand with a scoreless outing that included just one hit — a leadoff single from Jason Tyner.
Borowski got his American League-leading 39th save by getting Nick Punto to pop up a sacrifice bunt attempt and Alexi Casillia to ground into a double play.
Thanks to an anemic offense, the Indians have been running in place since the All-Star break. There was plenty of panic in Cleveland but it never reached the clubhouse, according to Sabathia.
“People around here were making a big deal out of us struggling,” he said. “But we knew we had a stretch like this in us.”
The Indians are 10-3 over their last 13 games and own their largest lead in the division since June 1. And though they are playing better, they still have a chip on their shoulder, stemming from a playoff drought that has lasted since 2001 — the year Cleveland won its last division title.
“We definitely have something to prove to everybody,” Sabathia said. “We came so close in ’05 and fell off in the last week. I definitely feel we have something to prove.
“People are still doubting us and not taking us seriously. I think we’re here to stay.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.