MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Cleveland Indians were mounting another comeback, and the bullpen was holding strong.
Just one off-target slider was the end of that, when Josh Willingham’s tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning sent the Minnesota Twins to a 4-3 victory Monday night.
Kurt Suzuki had a two-run double among his three hits, Trevor Plouffe hit an RBI double and the Twins beat the Indians at home for the first time in more than 11 months.
Suzuki, a first-time All-Star selection who was the catcher for the ninth inning of the American League’s victory here at Target Field last week, posted his ninth three-hit game this season. He raised his batting average to .311 and is 25 for 63 in last 17 games.
In another All-Star game reprise, Glen Perkins pitched a perfect ninth for his 23rd save in 26 chances.
One week ago, the Home Run Derby was delayed by rain on a cool, autumn-like evening. Tack on about 30 degrees and thick humidity, and that’s what the conditions were like for this series opener, which began with a first-pitch temperature of 89 degrees.
Willingham sent the sweaty Twins fans home happy with his dead-pull line drive on a full count that just cleared the left-field wall against Bryan Shaw (4-2), his ninth homer and only his second this month.
“It was a slider, kind of middle half, not where I was trying to put it,” Shaw said, adding: “I was trying to throw something soft because he was catching up to the heater.”
Casey Fien (5-4) picked up the win despite letting the Indians tie the game in the top of the eighth on an RBI single by Roberto Perez that cost Twins starter Kris Johnson his first career victory.
The Indians lead the major leagues with 162 runs in the seventh inning or later this season. After winning three of four games at first-place Detroit last weekend, they arrived at Target Field with a deficit in the AL Central of 5 1/2 games.
This rally fell short, though.
Due to Justin Masterson being on the disabled list with inflammation in his right knee and a doubleheader they had last weekend, the Indians have had to do a little shuffling in the rotation. Rookie T.J. House, who made eight starts earlier this season, was recalled from Triple-A Columbus to take the mound in Minnesota.
“He did throw a lot of strikes, just not the quality strikes that we’ve kind of seen,” manager Terry Francona said. “There was a lot of contact. Fortunately, we executed a couple plays to keep them off the bases.”
House completed five innings, giving up three runs. The Twins could’ve scored more, but Plouffe was thrown out attempting to advance after his double in the third when the cutoff man, Mike Aviles, dropped the throw.
Suzuki was also thrown out on the bases when he tried to stretch a single in the fourth.
House gave up six hits and three walks, striking out two. He was more complimentary of his relievers than of his own performance.
“I don’t want to leave them out there for three or four innings,” he said.
The Indians lost shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to spasms in his lower back after two innings. His status will be re-evaluated Tuesday.
Chris Dickerson delivered a pinch-hit RBI single in his place, and Aviles quickly shifted back to his natural shortstop spot after his first start of the season in center field. Nick Swisher also played right field for the first time this year in another mild surprise with Francona’s lineup.
Yan Gomes hit third, having not batted higher than fifth all season and getting most of his time in the seventh slot, and hit an RBI double. He’s 10 for 21 with five RBIs in his last six games.