CLEVELAND — — 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 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Friday night in the opener of a five game streak.
Clement singled for Josh Naylor, who led off the eighth with a single and moved to second on Oscar Gonzalez’s single. Joan Duran’s 2-1 pitch to Andres Jimenez bounced in front of catcher Gary Sanchez and back to the screen in motion.
Sanchez couldn’t find the ball initially, and Clement rounded third and slid headfirst into the plate, beating Sanchez’s throw.
Clement heeded Naylor’s advice when manager Terry Francona sent him on a pinch run.
“As I was coming in, Naylor stopped me and said, ‘Hey, get ready for a foul ball,'” Clement said. “So obviously if there’s a foul ball, I’ve got to get my ass to third. I just kept running until (third base coach Mike Surbaugh) 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 as he returned to the dugout.
“This is as cool as it gets,” he said. “There’s that playoff atmosphere and the energy the crowd brings, that’s what kept us going because we fell early. Especially with this team, we are never out of the game. Everyone on the bench knows that.”
Cleveland leads third-place Minnesota by five games and won the season series with a 10-5 advantage, giving the Guardians the tiebreaker. The teams play a day and night game on Saturday, followed by games on Sunday and Monday.
Cleveland swept a three-game series at Target Field last weekend and has won six straight over the Twins. The Rangers also won a game against the Chicago White Sox, who lost 3-2 to Detroit in 10 innings.
The Rangers 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 get to play in a game that’s so exciting. This is great. Hug him.”
The loss was a tough one for the Twins, who looked to be in position to cut Cleveland’s lead to another game.
“It’s very difficult,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was a very difficult game to watch because we feel good about a lot of things we’re doing. We had big changes, we made some plays, the guys were There very well.”
Trevor Stephan (6-4) pitched a scoreless eighth while Emmanuel Klasse gave up an infield hit in the ninth but got Gilberto Celestino to ground out 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.
A throwing error by second baseman Nick Gordon on Jimenez’s grounder started the seventh. Gimenez 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 Quan’s grounder, but the runners moved up a base and scored on Amed Rosario’s single.
“We didn’t play perfectly clean baseball. … We had to really play an amazing, crisp, solid all-around game to get where we needed to be,” Baldelli said. “It wasn’t clear enough.”
Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie allowed three runs in seven innings.
Twins: Minnesota is trying to stay in contention despite a long injury list, with second baseman Jorge Polanco (knee inflammation), center fielder Byron Buxton (hip strain), left fielder Alex Kiriloff (wrist inflammation) , outfielder Kyle Garlick (sprained left wrist) and right fielder Max Kepler (bruised foot, sore wrist) all suspended. Kepler is the only one not on the injured list. … Gordon was ejected 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 Sivale (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 in a rehab start for Triple-A Columbus on Thursday.
The Twins will add LHP Louie Varland (0-0, 3.38 ERA) as the 29th player 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 starter.