Kepler hits three home runs, Twins beat Indians 5-4 to avoid sweep
CLEVELAND — Trevor Bauer felt great about most of the pitches he threw to Minnesota's Max Kepler.
The Twins outfielder liked them more.
Kepler homered three times off Bauer, and José Berríos locked up Cleveland's lineup into the seventh inning as the Twins avoided a sweep — and their first three-game losing streak — by beating the Indians 5-4 on Thursday night.
Kepler, who entered hitless in his previous 21 at-bats, connected in the first, third and seventh innings off Bauer (4-6), who thought he was making mostly quality pitches but gave up homers on a changeup, fastball and slider.
"Two of them I felt like were pitches that were supposed to be in my favor," Bauer said. "Clearly, they weren't."
Kepler also walked in the fifth, and the 26-year-old came up in the ninth with a chance to become the 19th player to hit four homers in one game — a feat rarer than a perfect game. But left-hander Josh Smith kept Kepler in the park, getting him to hit a hard grounder to the right side that he beat out for a single.
Kepler said history wasn't on his mind.
"I thought about it for a second, but I got back within myself and had the same approach as every other at-bat — see it and try to put the bat on it," he said.
It was Kepler's second career three-homer game. The other one also came against the Indians on Aug. 1, 2016, and Kepler acknowledged having a brief flashback to that performance.
"The game is very unique. Odd things like this happen and crazy situations that you can't really pin," he said. "But I'm honored to be a part of it. Some days you don't see the ball great, other days you see it like a beach ball."
The AL-Central leading Twins took the series finale and again moved 10½ games ahead of Cleveland, whose run of three straight division titles could be coming to an end.
Berríos (8-2) had another strong outing against the Indians. The right-hander allowed just one run — a homer by Roberto Pérez — and two hits before being replaced in the seventh. Berrios beat Cleveland on opening day, striking out 10 in 7 2/3 shutout innings.
Indians rookie Oscar Mercado's pinch-hit homer in the ninth pulled Cleveland to 5-4 before Taylor Rogers retired Pérez for his sixth save.
Baseball's biggest surprise in 2019, Minnesota has only lost two in a row four times this season. Just one Twins team has gone longer without losing three straight this late: the 1970 squad, which dropped three in a row from June 17-20.
The Indians were hoping to cut into a deficit they never imagined would be so big, so early. But Bauer remained winless since April 30 — a span of seven starts.
He gave up a home run to Kepler on his second pitch and finished allowing five runs and five hits in eight innings. Not bad, but not what Cleveland needed with three full-time starters sidelined with injuries.
Following the game, Bauer, who was hit on the left foot by Marwin Gonzalez's comebacker in the second, said he feels snake bit. He's making good pitches, but not getting results.
"I executed really well all night and it just seems like anything that can go wrong will go wrong for me right now," he said after losing his fifth straight decision. "I get gun shy every time a ball goes in the air because it seems like everything that gets hit in the air is a homer."
Bauer got emotional as he talked about wanting to do more following teammate Carlos Carrasco's diagnosis with a blood condition.
"We had a tough last couple days as a team, as a family, with Carlos and that news," he said. "We needed a strong performance tonight and I wanted to help those guys out a little bit, try to pull us back closer in the playoff race and it just didn't go that way for me."
Kepler joined Hall of Famer Ted Williams as the only players to have multiple three-homer games against Cleveland. Williams did it in 1946 and 1957.
The Twins lead the majors with 117 homers and are on pace to hit 307, which would smash the record of 267 hit by the Yankees last season.
Twins: DH Nelson Cruz was not in the starting lineup. The club is being cautious with his workload after he missed 18 games with a strained left wrist.
Indians: RHP Mike Clevinger (strained back muscle) threw 58 pitches in a rehab start at Triple-A Columbus. He'll likely pitch again for the Clippers before being activated.
Twins: Manager Rocco Baldelli hasn't decided on his starter for the series opener in Detroit, but a likely option is RHP Michael Pineda (4-3, 5.34 ERA), who is eligible to return from the injured list after being sidelined with right knee tendinitis.
Indians: Rookie RHP Zach Plesac (0-1, 1.46 ERA) makes his third career start in the opener of a three-game series against the New York Yankees.