MINNEAPOLIS — Prior to the second game of the series at Target Field, Indians manager Terry Francona announced that the team would finish the regular season without a designated closer.
They didn’t need one Friday night against the Twins.
Thanks to an early offensive assault, Cleveland romped past Minnesota 12-6 to notch its eighth straight victory and 13th in the last 15 games.
What’s more, the win moved the Indians into a tie with Tampa Bay for the two American League wild-card berths. Texas remained a game behind both teams.
“Whatever,” Francona said of his club’s wild-card status. “I just want to keep playing. I don’t want to go home. I don’t care where we play, when we play, I just want to keep playing.
“It’s everything you hope for at the start of spring training, but you can’t let yourself get too far ahead.”
Francona and the Indians are assured of playing past the regular-season finale Sunday with one win in their final two games. The only way Cleveland doesn’t play past Sunday is if it should lose its last two games and Texas wins its last two — with the Rays winning one of their final two games.
It appeared the Indians would cruise to victory Friday night when they scored seven times in the first two innings to chase Minnesota starter Pedro Hernandez.
They led 9-1 after batting in the fifth inning.
“That was so nice,” Francona said. “We got after them early and kind of stayed after them. It was fun to watch. We kept grinding, and that’s good. A lot of good things happened tonight.”
The Indians wound up needing most of the early lead thanks to a shaky start from right-hander Corey Kluber, who allowed six runs on 10 hits over 5⅓ innings in his fifth start since returning from the disabled list.
“Tonight, I probably felt the best since I came back,” Kluber said. “Ironically, it doesn’t really show that. I felt mechanically I was there and felt good physically. The last couple innings I fell behind some guys and got the ball up.
“Fortunately, we did get off to a fast start and scored a lot of runs early, so the mistakes I did make didn’t come back to hurt us.”
The Twins closed the deficit to 9-6 after scoring three times in the sixth, but Cleveland tacked on three runs over the final two innings, with a double from Jason Kipnis in the eighth and a two-run home run from Drew Stubbs in the ninth.
“I think we’re starting to swing the bats at the right time,” Stubbs said. “Obviously we’re getting good enough pitching to win, which is all you can ask.”
Of the Indians’ nine batters, six had multihit games with Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera collecting three hits apiece, while four players each drove in two runs.
Justin Masterson made another positive appearance out of the bullpen, walking one but striking out the side in the eighth inning. In two relief appearances since returning to the mound after a left oblique strain Sept. 2, the right-hander has struck out five of the seven batters he’s faced.
Cleveland employed five relievers after Kluber departed, with the bullpen allowing just a hit to finish off the Twins.
It comes down to the final two games for the Indians, who could clinch at least a tie with Texas should they win today.
“I think that’s all we could have asked of ourselves, to continue to play good baseball,” Stubbs said. “We look up and with two games to go and we’re right where we need to be. We just have to finish up these last couple games strong and let the cards fall where they may. I think we all have to like the way we’re playing going down the stretch.”
The Indians are 19-6 in September, their best record during the month since 1952.
Cleveland won its 90th game for its most victories since winning 96 in 2007 — the Indians’ last playoff appearance.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Minnesota
TIME: 1:05 p.m.
WHERE: Target Field, Minneapolis
PITCHERS: Kazmir (9-9, 4.14 ERA) vs. De Vries (0-1, 11.70)
TV/RADIO: Channel 8; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM
MAGIC NUMBER: 2