Indians deal another blow to Twins’ playoff hopes

Michael Brantley and David Huff gave the Cleveland Indians hope for the future by damaging the Minnesota Twins‘ present plans.

Brantley hit a tiebreaking single with two outs in the seventh inning, helping Huff and the Indians beat Minnesota 3-1 Sunday. The loss dropped the Twins seven games behind Detroit in the AL Central.

“Every team goes through stretches like this,” said Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer, who is in an 0-for-16 slump. “Unfortunately for us, it’s coming at a bad time.”

Brantley’s grounder into right field scored Luis Valbuena from second and gave the Indians a 2-1 lead. Brantley was caught in a rundown when Cuddyer cut off the throw home, but made it to second safely and scored on Asdrubal Cabrera‘s double.

With Brantley reversing his tracks back and forth between throws, Cuddyer finally chased him to second and made a lunging tag – but dropped the ball as both players tumbled.

“Too bad it isn’t like the NFL where the ground can’t cause a fumble,” Cuddyer said.

Cleveland took two of three from the Twins, hurting their chances of tracking down Detroit. The Twins began the day six back of the Tigers despite winning 12 of their previous 17.

“Right now, it’s not working,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “For a while we said if our pitching ever catches up with our bats, we’ll be OK. Now we’re struggling with our bats, and our pitching is going along pretty decent. They need to go together.”

Huff (9-7) outpitched Nick Blackburn (9-10), allowing one run and two hits in seven innings to earn his fourth win in his last five starts. The rookie left-hander had not pitched since Aug. 26 as the Indians seek to limit his workload.

“I felt strong and had good command,” Huff said. “I’m in uncharted territory. A year ago, my season finished Sept. 1. I’m not physically tired. Mentally, I’m trying to get through it.”

Brantley and Huff are two of several youngsters getting a chance with the rebuilding Indians, who have traded away many veterans and are without injured All-Star outfielder Grady Sizemore for the rest of the season.

“Brantley put some good swings on the ball against us,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a nice-looking player. Cabrera’s becoming one of the better players in the league. I really like watching him out there. They’ve got some nice-looking players.”

Indians manager Eric Wedge likes what he has seen, too.

“He impacted the game,” Wedge said of Brantley, acquired by Cleveland in July 2008 in the trade that sent CC Sabathia to Milwaukee. “He did a great job of staying in that rundown. He knocked one in, scored another and was the separator.”

Brantley said he tried to stick with fundamentals with the game tied in the seventh.

“I looked for a pitch and was able to put a good swing on it,” said the 22-year-old outfielder. “I wanted to get in the rundown so that the run would score there. Once it did, I tried to get out of it. It’s a lot of fun to do, but I was lucky this time.”

Huff held the Twins hitless until Nick Punto poked a double down the first-base line with two outs in the fifth. Denard Span hit the next pitch for an RBI single and 1-0 lead.

The Indians tied it in the bottom half on a pair of broken-bat hits. Brantley shattered his lumber on a leadoff single to center, advanced on Cabrera’s sacrifice and scored on Jhonny Peralta‘s two-out single.

Tony Sipp pitched the eighth and Kerry Wood worked a perfect ninth, striking out two, for his 19th save in 24 chances.

Huff had lost his last three starts at Progressive Field while posting a 10.38 ERA. That included a 10-1 loss to the Twins on Aug. 4, when the rookie left-hander gave up seven runs and 11 hits in 4 2-3 innings.

Twins catcher Joe Mauer went 1 for 4, dropping his AL-leading average to .366. He was robbed of a hit in the fourth when second baseman Valbuena made a diving backhand catch of his line drive up the middle.


Brantley has hit safely in all six games since being called up Tuesday, going 9 for 23 (.391). … Twins LHP Francisco Liriano (arm fatigue) threw in the bullpen. He is scheduled to pitch a simulated game Tuesday in Toronto and may be activated Thursday. … The Twins will promote RHP Armando Gabino and OF Justin Huber from Triple-A Rochester after its season ends Monday. … Twins slugger Justin Morneau went 0 for 3 with a walk and is hitless in his last 19 at-bats. … The Wonder Girls, a South Korean group whose single “Nobody” is a favorite of Indians OF Shin-Soo Choo, sang before the game and between innings.