89 down, three to go
Corey Kluber's return helped vault the Cleveland Indians into the AL's second wild-card spot.
The surging Indians look to close in on a postseason berth and win their fifth straight start with Kluber on the mound when they continue their season-ending four-game set with the Minnesota Twins on Friday night.
Thursday night began comfortably in Cleveland's favor as the Indians (89-70) took a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth at Target Field, but struggling Chris Perez gave up four runs, including Josmil Pinto's two-run home run to draw the Twins (66-93) within one.
"Like the way they finished and got after it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Just needed one more hit."
Texas, a game behind Cleveland, applied further pressure with Jurickson Profar's walk-off home run in the Rangers' 6-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
Joe Smith, though, kept the Indians' margin with a strikeout with the tying run on second and the winning run on first.
Cleveland can clinch a share of the second wild-card spot Friday with a win and a Texas loss.
What it will take for Perez, with a 7.52 ERA since August, to keep his job is less clear.
"You know what? I think we'll always figure out a way to win. That's kind of the way I always view it," manager Terry Francona said.
Since missing a month with a sprained finger on his pitching hand, Kluber (10-5, 3.61 ERA) is 3-0 with a 4.05 ERA in four starts.
Perhaps more important, his return has coincided with a 14-5 run by the Indians, who won their seventh straight Thursday.
Much like his team, Kluber has taken advantage of weak opposition of late, beating the Mets, the White Sox and Houston in his last four starts.
The right-hander held the Astros to two runs in 5 1-3 innings with six strikeouts in a 9-2 win Sunday.
"I don't know if I feel quite as good as I did before," Kluber told the team's official website. "I felt better today than I had the last couple times out."
Of the six innings he started, Kluber gave up four leadoff hits, including the fourth, when he got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam with a single run allowed.
"I still think he's not in midseason form as far as his command," Francona said. "But he still competes. You saw what he gave us. I just think he's still kind of clawing his way back."
Kluber pitched five scoreless innings at Minnesota on July 20 after entering that game with a 5.57 ERA in four prior matchups.
Michael Brantley has three hits in four consecutive games - the first Indian to accomplish that feat since Kenny Lofton in 1995 - and is batting .500 during a 10-game hitting streak.
With three hits Friday, he'd be the first Indian since Ken Keltner in 1939 to record three-plus hits in five straight games.
The last major leaguer with five consecutive three-hit games was George Brett in 1976.
Minnesota's Pedro Hernandez (3-2, 6.05) is coming off one of his worst starts of the season, yielding six runs and eight hits in two innings of a 9-1 loss to Oakland on Saturday.
"Hernandez basically centered the baseball and they made him pay," Gardenhire said.
The left-hander has had his issues in two starts against Cleveland this season, posting a 6.10 ERA with 10 walks in 10 1-3 innings. He did, however, earn a 5-3 victory at Progressive Field on June 23, overcoming six walks to allow two runs in five innings.