CLEVELAND (AP) — Pinch-runner Ernie Clement raced home from second base on a wild pitch in the eighth inning for the go-ahead run and the AL-Central leading Cleveland Guardians rallied for a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Twins on Friday night in the opener of a crucial five-game series.
Clement ran for Josh Naylor, who led off the eighth with a single and took second on Oscar Gonzalez’s single. Jhoan Duran’s 2-1 pitch to Andrés Giménez bounced in front of catcher Gary Sánchez and went back to the screen on the fly.
Sánchez couldn’t find the ball initially and Clement rounded third and slid headfirst into the home plate, beating Sánchez’s throw.
Clement heeded Naylor’s advice when manager Terry Francona sent him in to pinch-run.
“As I’m coming in, Naylor stopped me and said ‘Hey, be ready for a dirt ball,’” Clement said. “So obviously if there’s a dirt ball I’ve got to get my butt to third. I was just running until (third base coach Mike Sarbaugh) stopped me and he never did, so I just kept going.”
The crowd of 20,669 was on its feet and Clement was celebrated by his teammates when he got back to the dugout.
“That’s as cool as it gets,” he said. “It’s got that playoff atmosphere and the energy the crowd brought, it kept us in it because we were down early. Especially with this team, we’re never out of a game. Everybody on the bench knows that.”
Cleveland leads third-place Minnesota by five games and has clinched the season series with a 10-5 edge, giving the Guardians the tiebreaker. The teams play a day-night doubleheader Saturday followed by games Sunday and Monday.
Cleveland swept a three-game series at Target Field last weekend and has won six straight over the Twins. The Guardians also gained a game on the Chicago White Sox, who lost 3-2 to Detroit in 10 innings.
The Guardians are 32-15 in games decided in the seventh inning or later, which is both fun and nerve-wracking for Francona.
“I don’t think you’re ever too old to — I’m nervous as hell,” he said. “And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It was exciting. Guys work all winter and all spring and play all year and you have the right to play in a game that’s this exciting. That’s great. Embrace it.”
The loss was difficult for the Twins, who seemed to be in position to cut another game into Cleveland’s lead.
“It’s very hard,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That was a very tough ballgame to watch because we’re feeling good with a lot of things that we’re doing. We had some big swings, we made some plays, guys were pitching good. There was a lot going real well.”
Trevor Stephan (6-4) pitched a scoreless eighth while Emmanuel Clase gave up an infield hit in the ninth, but got Gilberto Celestino on a groundout for his 36th save.
Duran (2-4) allowed a run in the eighth.
Bailey Ober allowed one hit over five innings in his first start since June 1 and Jake Cave hit a two-run homer in the fourth as Minnesota took a 3-0 lead, but Cleveland rallied in the seventh.
Second baseman Nick Gordon’s throwing error on Giménez’s grounder started the seventh. Giménez took third on pinch-hitter Owen Miller’s single and scored on Myles Straw’s one-out single. Jose Miranda made a diving stop at first base on Steven Kwan’s grounder, but the runners moved up a base and scored on Amed Rosario’s single.
“We didn’t play perfectly clean baseball … We needed to really play an incredibly, crisp solid all-around game to get where we needed to be,” Baldelli said. “It wasn’t crisp enough.”
Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie allowed three runs in seven innings.
Twins: Minnesota is trying to stay in the race despite a lengthy injury list, with second baseman Jorge Polanco (knee inflammation), center fielder Byron Buxton (hip strain), left fielder Alex Kirilloff (wrist inflammation), outfielder Kyle Garlick (left wrist sprain) and right fielder Max Kepler (bruised leg, sore wrist) all sidelined. Kepler is the only one not on the injured list. … Gordon was removed from the game after fouling a ball off his left foot in the eighth. … Polanco played second base in a rehab game Friday night for Triple-A St. Paul.
Guardians: RHP Aaron Civale (elbow) is scheduled to start Tuesday in Chicago against the White Sox. He allowed two home runs and seven hits in 2 2/3 innings on a rehab start for Triple-A Columbus on Thursday.
The Twins will add LHP Louie Varland (0-0, 3.38 ERA) as the 29th man to start Saturday’s first game against Cleveland RHP Shane Bieber (10-8, 2.91 ERA). RHP Josh Winder (4-4, 3.83 ERA) will start the second game for Minnesota against LHP Konnor Pilkington (1-2, 4.30 ERA) who will be the Guardians’ 29th man.