CLEVELAND — For the second straight day, the axe dropped on John Axford.
Light-hitting Eduardo Escobar led off the 10th inning with a home run off the Indians’ closer, giving the Minnesota Twins a 1-0 victory Monday night.
It was the shortstop’s first homer since June 20, 2013, but the second game-losing blast allowed by Axford in as many games.
Dayan Viciedo ripped a three-run shot in the top of the ninth Sunday as the White Sox stole a 4-3 win.
“It was great to get back out there right away — that’s something I wanted — but, unfortunately, the second pitch I threw went out of the park,” said Axford, who shares the American League lead with nine saves.
“I had a clean slate, but it was a bad pitch, a fastball that cut back over the plate. Just a bad pitch by me.”
Escobar smacked the 1-0 delivery into the third row of the right-field stands, making Axford (0-3, 4.85 ERA) the loser in Cleveland’s first extra-inning game of the season.
Twins reliever Caleb Thielbar (2-0, 1.86 ERA) pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up the win, while Glen Perkins worked a perfect 10th for his eighth save.
“Axe just mislocated trying to go down and away, and he missed by a lot,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
“I actually waited to put him in there until the 10th because this made three days in a row for him, so I wanted to be careful, but I felt like I had to with the way the game was going.”
Axford was hardly the only reason for the Tribe’s first 1-0 loss since June 15, 2011, at San Francisco.
Cleveland’s offense only managed three hits — two by second baseman Mike Aviles — and failed to get a runner to third base on the 47-degree evening. Left fielder Michael Brantley’s double in the first was its other hit.
“With our offense, there certainly isn’t much wiggle room right now,” said Francona, whose squad has scored more than five runs once in its last 10 games.
“We just are fairly inconsistent right now, even in hitter’s counts.”
Indians starter Zach McAllister and Twins counterpart Kyle Gibson both deserved better fates, but didn’t factor into the decision. Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen also put up zeroes for the Tribe, keeping the game scoreless through nine.
Right-hander McAllister tossed 6⅔ shutout innings, scattering five hits and a walk while tying his career high with eight strikeouts. He allowed two runners to reach third, but stopped Trevor Plouffe there in the fourth and stranded Sam Fuld in the sixth.
McAllister had lost his two previous starts, allowing nine runs in 9⅓ innings, but bounced back while pitching on his regular four days rest against Minnesota.
“I thought I commanded the ball pretty well and was able to execute some pretty good fastballs tonight,” said McAllister, adding he hasn’t lost any faith in Axford.
“Ax has been a huge part of every win we’ve had and every one of us completely trusts him. Why wouldn’t we? His stuff is too good not to be successful out there.”
Gibson was even better than McAllister, only permitting two hits and three walks in seven innings. The righty is 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA in two career starts in Cleveland, but got off to a shaky start.
The Indians’ only minor threat came in the first, when Brantley doubled and Carlos Santana walked with two outs. Lonnie Chisenhall popped out to third to end the inning, beginning an exercise of frustration for the crowd of 9,037.
Twins center fielder Fuld was the only player on either team with two hits, while Santana walked twice, stole his first base of the season, and committed the Tribe’s AL-leading 31st error. Cleveland fell to 13-19 and remains last in the AL Central Division.
“It’s a shame that my performances in the back end have overshadowed two outstanding pitching performances the last two days,” Axford said. “I’ve definitely had my ups and downs, so I can look back and see what I did to overcome those moments in the past. I know I’ll be thinking about it until I get
out there again.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Minnesota
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Tomlin (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Deduno (0-1, 2.89)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM