Indians bullpen forced to hold on to beat Twins

The Indians won, but had to hang on after leading 8-3

CLEVELAND -- If all is well that ends well, then things ended just fine for the Indians Saturday night.

A tidy 8-7 win over Minnesota gave the Indians two in a row over the Twins, which means they’ve also won four consecutive series. Cleveland has officially “bounced back” from a bad stretch by winning eight of 10. The Indians also have won 22 of 30 at home, and have a major league best 14-7 record in one-run games.

Which is good, very good.

Problem was this win was not very tidy. If a team is careful not to let a win obscure issues, the Indians will pay attention to some sloppy bullpen work that had them hanging on to a game that began with Minnesota starter P.J. Walters treating the plate as if it had a communicable disease. Walters got two outs, walked five and hit one batter in a six-run first inning.

It is written somewhere that any team that walks five guys and hits another in the first inning should be obligated to lose. The Twins obviously have not read that book.

They got starter Corey Kluber out of the game with two outs in the sixth and the Indians ahead 8-3. From there the bullpen staggered. Nick Hagadone gave up a run when Cody Allen could not get an out with Hagadone’s runner on third. Bryan Shaw gave up a run in one-third of an inning, then was saved by Rich Hill, he of the 7.79 ERA.

Hill might have saved the game by striking out Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit with two on.

“That was a huge part of the game and he was facing some really good hitters,” manager Terry Francona said.

The lead was 8-5, and Vinnie Pestano was brought in to finish, a choice Francona probably did not expect to make three innings earlier. Pestano gave up a leadoff double to Mauer and home run to Chris Parmalee, and after a walk, pinch-hitter Josh Willingham suddenly represented the winning run.

“I’m not trying to make things interesting every time out, but that’s the way the game is for me right now,” Pestano said.

Pestano threw several sliders to Willingham, who worked the count to 3-2. Pestano threw another slider, and Willingham struck out on a half-swing.

It was a win, which is ultimately what matters. But it wasn’t pretty, as the bullpen threw 99 pitches in three and one-third innings and gave up five hits and four earned runs (ERA: 10.80). Pestano got the save after giving up two runs and throwing 34 pitches in one inning.

Francona’s mantra is to be one run better, and the Indians were. But Pestano was left shaking his head. With Chris Perez on the disabled list and probably not returning for at least a few more days and with Pestano going through what he’s going through, the late innings are no longer automatic.

Since assuming the closer’s role when Perez went on the DL on May 27, Pestano has pitched 10 innings and given up 10 hits and four runs.

But they have not all been comfortable innings, and he knows it.

The outing prior to Saturday was a one-two-three, but the one before that he gave up three hits and walked one but didn’t give up a run. He’s also been on the disabled list this season.

“This season hasn’t been anything but challenging for me so far,” he said. “I’ve definitely taken my lumps and my bruises.”

He said he feels good, and he thought he had good stuff that Minnesota just hit.

“It’s just the way this game goes sometimes,” he said. “When you’re down it doesn’t really let you up that easy. You just got to keep firing away.”

The bottom line for the Indians: They have a chance to sweep on Sunday.

But for a team used to seeing its last three relievers eradicate the opposing lineup, this season has been . . . well . . . interesting.

No doubt they would like it to be a little less interesting. And soon.

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