Twins close gap in 9th but fall to Indians 4-2

CLEVELAND — For months, the Minnesota Twins have done it the hard way, scrapping to an unexpected season.

On Wednesday night, they needed some help.

The turnaround Twins missed a chance to clinch a playoff spot on their own as Danny Salazar gave Cleveland’s brain trust more to consider with a strong start and Yan Gomes homered, lifting the Indians to a 4-2 win.

When the game ended, Minnesota’s players quickly left the field and headed to their clubhouse to watch Los Angeles and Chicago. If the Angels lost to the White Sox, the Twins would win an AL wild-card spot and make their first postseason trip since 2010.

It’s not the way manager Paul Molitor envisioned a clinching.

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“You’d like to have a chance to win to get in, but now we just have to wait to see what happens,” Molitor said in the hallway. “So that’s what we’ll do.”

The Indians improved to 30-3 since Aug. 24 and stayed one game ahead of Houston for the best record in the AL and home-field advantage until the World Series.

The Twins made it interesting in the ninth, pulling within 4-2 on Jorge Polanco’s two-run homer with one out. But closer Cody Allen stopped Minnesota’s comeback, putting the party plans on hold.

Cleveland scored two runs off Adalberto Mejia (4-7), who hit Gomes with a pitch and the bases loaded in the fourth to force in a run. Gomes later connected for his 14th homer to make it 4-0.

Mejia allowed two runs in 3 2-3 innings, but was upset that he couldn’t do more.

“I couldn’t get it done, but if the chance comes to throw in a postseason game, I’ll be ready, both mentally and physically,” the left-hander said. “I tried, obviously, but today was one of those days where things happened. But I tried.”

The Twins came in needing just one win to grab the AL’s second wild-card position — the New York Yankees already have the other — and complete a remarkable one-season reversal after losing 103 games in 2016.

Minnesota could be the first team to lose at least 100 games and make the playoffs the following year.

Mike Clevinger (12-5), who will pitch out of Cleveland’s bullpen in the postseason, replaced Salazar in the fifth and got his first win in relief this season.

Salazar allowed one hit and struck out nine in 4 2-3 shutout innings of his last — and perhaps most important — start of the regular season. Manager Terry Francona lifted the right-hander one out before he qualified for the win, a move he made to get Clevinger more comfortable in his new role.

Salazar isn’t guaranteed a spot on Cleveland’s postseason roster, but he made any decision not to include him a little tougher. He’s had a disappointing season, which included a lengthy stint in the minors to work out some issues.

“I thought Danny looked great,” Francona said. “That was really, really encouraging. He worked ahead. He had a good off-speed, whether it was a changeup or breaking ball and had dominant stuff. That was exciting to see.”

Edwin Encarnacion picked up his 104th RBI in the first inning and the Indians made it 2-0 in the fourth when Mejia plunked Gomes.

A throwing error by Minnesota third baseman Eduardo Escobar gave the Indians a 3-0 lead in the fifth.

TITO’S TOPS

The Indians’ 99 wins are a career high for Francona, who is in his 17th season managing in the bigs. His previous high was 98 victories with the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who won the World Series

“Tito” has a career record of 1,480-1,268, including 451-353 with Cleveland.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

Indians second baseman Jose Ramirez hit his league-leading 53rd double, tied for the third most in club history.

Grady Sizemore also hit 53 doubles in 2006. George Burns (64 in 1926) holds the Indians’ record with Hall of Famer Tris Speaker (59 in 1923) second.

BUX STOPS HERE

Molitor believes center fielder Byron Buxton should be rewarded for his fabulous defense.

The speedy Buxton added to his resume of great catches Tuesday night with a diving grab, and Molitor feels he should be in line for a Gold Glove.

“I don’t know what else you can do to earn your first postseason award than Bux has done,” Molitor said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Twins: 3B Miguel Sano (left shin stress reaction) took 60 swings at Target Field, raising the possibility he could be on the playoff roster. The first-time All-Star has been on the disabled list since Aug. 20.

Indians: OF Michael Brantley’s postseason hopes took a positive turn. The All-Star did some running Wednesday in a simulated game and could be playing by the end of the week. Brantley’s chances to help the Indians in October were fading with every passing day, but the 30-year-old is going to make one last push. Brantley was having a strong comeback season after missing Cleveland’s World Series run in 2016 following two shoulder surgeries.

UP NEXT

Carlos Carrasco goes for his 18th win in his final start of the regular season against Twins right-hander Ervin Santana, who is 2-0 with 16 strikeouts in three starts against the Central champions this season.