CLEVELAND — All’s well that ended well for the Indians on Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field. Except it almost didn’t.
Cleveland was cruising behind a dominant performance from All-Star Game MVP Shane Bieber before a bizarre turn of events in the top of the seventh threatened to steal the victory.
Carlos Santana made the craziness inconsequential with a game-winning solo homer in the bottom of the inning that lifted the Indians to a 4-3 victory that avoided a three-game sweep by Central Division-leading Minnesota.
“It’s nice for us to get punched in the stomach and come right back,” manager Terry Francona said. “That was a good ending. That would’ve been a tough day.”
Bieber allowed only three hits and struck out seven over six scoreless innings, but began the seventh with a walk.
That’s when things got strange.
Home plate umpire Ron Kulpa ruled Bieber hit the following batter, Mitch Garver, with a pitch. The Indians challenged the call and replays seemed to confirm the ball hit the end of Garver’s bat, but after a review the call stood.
Marwin Gonzalez followed with an RBI single for the Twins’ first run.
Bieber allowed another single to Miguel Sano to load the bases before it was originally ruled that a pitch to the next batter, Jake Cave, hit off the end of his bat for a foul ball.
The Twins challenged the call and it was reversed, forcing a run in to bring Minnesota within 3-2.
Bieber struck out the next batter before departing for left-hander Oliver Perez, who allowed the game-tying run on Max Kepler’s bloop single to center.
“It’s frustrating sometimes. Sometimes things don’t go your way,” Bieber said. “Unfortunately, that’s kind of what replay is for, but even then, sometimes things don’t go your way or you don’t get the right break. That’s how the game shakes out. Other than that, no comment.”
An inning later, Francona sought an explanation from the umpiring crew.
“Once it goes to New York (for review), it’s up to them and that’s where I was a having a little bit of a problem because the explanation (was) that they have different views than we do,” he said. “That was always told to us in spring training that to make it fair they have the exact same view that we do, ’cause if not, it’s not fair. I’d like to get that straight because that’s concerning.”
“I thought it was a shame because he pitched so well, pretty dominant for six and then if it could go wrong, it did in the seventh,” Francona said of Bieber. “How often do you see two balls hit like that and both go against you? It was just a really tough inning.”
After Santana connected on his 21st homer — a liner into the seats in right field — there was still work left for the Indians.
Right-hander Adam Cimber, who struck out the dangerous Nelson Cruz with the bases loaded to end the seventh, allowed a leadoff double to Luis Arraez in the eighth.
With help from third baseman Jose Ramirez’s nice play on a hard shot from Garver, Cimber retired three straight, including a strikeout of Sano to end the inning.
“You can’t let the game situation get the best of you,” said Cimber, who has made nine straight scoreless appearances, allowing three hits over 8 2⁄3 innings. “It’s a tough game and anytime you let the nerves get to you, it’s gonna be not as good as if you just go out there and pitch like you have nothing to lose.”
“He gutted up and saved us in the (seventh),” Francona said of Cimber. “I thought Oliver actually made great pitches, jammed Kepler but it fell in because we’re playing kinda halfway, then he got the strikeout. And then Cimber goes out, and with the help of Jose at third, gets through that inning, too.”
After scuffling over the final two weeks of the first half and in the All-Star Game, closer Brad Hand returned to form, striking out the side in the ninth to earn his 24th save in 25 chances.
Had the Indians lost, their deficit to the Twins would have been 8 1⁄2 games. Instead it’s 6 1⁄2.
“It’s huge,” Cimber said. “You lose a game, it could’ve been three (in the standings), so I think today was huge. We’re ready to start getting on a roll again.”
Cleveland opens a four-game series tonight against Detroit, which they have beaten eight times in nine games this year.
“We (need to) finish good this week,” Santana said. “We have four games with Detroit and we play good against Detroit. And we’re fighting, we’re fighting. Every game is very important for the team, especially (when) we’re fighting (for) the division and the wild card. Every game is big.”