CLEVELAND -- Complacency wasn’t an issue for the Indians on Monday night.
A day after tying Minnesota atop the Central Division standings, Cleveland did one better, claiming sole possession of first place with a dramatic 6-5 victory over the Red Sox in front of 24,770 fans at Progressive Field.
Closer Brad Hand blew his second save in as many days, but Carlos Santana rode to the rescue again, belting a walk-off home run to lead off the ninth inning. Santana hit a game-winning grand slam in the 10th inning in Sunday’s series clinching victory over the Twins.
“He has come up so big for us and has been so consistent,” manager Terry Francona said of Santana, who connected on a 2-2 pitch from Marcus Walden and drove it an estimated 410 feet into the bleachers in left-center. “Right when you get punched in the stomach, he takes a swing like that. I mean, that was a gorgeous swing. I know the last two days, but he’s been doing it all year.”
With Minnesota idle, the Indians took a half-game lead, accounting for the first time they’ve been on top by themselves since April 19. Boston lost for the 12th time in 15 games.
Cleveland’s offense went to work early, scoring five times within the first three innings on homers from Franmil Reyes and Jose Ramirez off left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.
Replacing suspended right fielder Yasiel Puig in the cleanup spot, Reyes hit a two-run homer in the opening inning. It was the 28th homer of the season but first for the Indians for Reyes, who entered the night 4-for-36 with 14 strikeouts over his first 11 games since being acquired at the trade deadline.
“I’m sure (Reyes) felt like the weight or at least some of the weight of the world was off his shoulders,” Francona said. “That was huge for us and huge for him.”
Ramirez’s three-run shot to left field -- an estimated 425 feet -- put Cleveland in front 5-1 in the third. He added a seventh-inning double for his 11th extra-base hit in August.
The early run support was required for Indians starter Zach Plesac, who wasn’t at his best, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings.
The right-hander allowed a run in the second, then two in the fourth -- the first on a leadoff homer from J.D. Martinez.
Plesac’s replacement to start the sixth, right-hander Hunter Wood, got two quick outs before taking a grounder off the right leg from Mitch Moreland. He left with a calf contusion but Francona said he was OK and available Tuesday.
Wood was replaced by right-hander Tyler Clippard, who allowed a solo shot to Jackie Bradley Jr. to bring the Red Sox within 5-4 in the seventh.
Hand, who blew his third save Sunday, walked Mookie Betts with one out in the ninth, then struck out Rafael Devers before Xander Bogaerts scored Betts on a double over the head of right fielder Tyler Naquin.
“To give up the lead in the ninth is never ideal, but the past two nights the offense has picked me up and scored a run the next inning,” Hand said. “That’s what good teams do, they pick each other up.
“I just left the ball up and out over for Bogaerts. Off the bat, I didn’t think it was going to get over (Naquin’s) head, but it kinda just kept going. I felt good. Everything felt good. I just can’t make the big pitch to get out of it.”
“Sometimes you gotta tip your hat to the other team, too,” Francona said. “The last two (days), Minnesota and Boston, these offenses are ridiculous. If Naq gets back to it, if he catches it, the game’s over. I actually thought (Hand) made a pretty good pitch. He threw a fastball away. I wouldn’t second-guess that.”
Like he did Sunday, Santana got Hand off the hook.
“I’m excited,” he said. “We’re fighting for the division and every game is really important for the team. We’re worried about winning now. We want to make it to the playoffs.”
It was Santana’s 12th go-ahead homer -- five of them coming in the seventh inning or later.
“You guys know Carlos is a damage guy, a really dangerous guy and you have to watch out every time he is up there,” Reyes said.
The Indians had multiple opportunities to tack on, putting the leadoff man aboard and advancing runners into scoring position in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings, but couldn’t manage a single run.
Santana hit his 200th homer for the Indians and is the first Cleveland player to hit game-winning homers in the ninth inning or later in consecutive games since Albert Belle and Jim Thome in 1995.
Francona notched his 617th win as Indians manager, moving him into a tie with Tris Speaker for third on Cleveland’s all-time list.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.