CLEVELAND — It was a productive Wednesday for the Indians on the field and in the Central Division standings.
Cleveland swept Texas in a traditional doubleheader at Progressive Field, winning 2-0 in the opener and 5-1 in Game 2.
Thanks to division-leading Minnesota’s loss to Atlanta, the Indians, who have won five of their last six games, were able to trim a game and a half off their deficit, pulling within two of the Twins.
Cleveland opens a four-game series in Minnesota tonight.
“Today was a big day. Everyone wanted to get these two,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “Everyone was kind of watching the scoreboard over in Minnesota, too, and we knew it had a chance to be a big day for us and it worked out perfectly for us. Guys are in a good mood, feeling good and excited to get to Minnesota.”
The teams went without a run over the first six innings of Game 1 before Jose Ramirez connected on a two-run homer with one out in the seventh off Rangers starter Ariel Jurado. Ramirez also homered in the second game for the Indians’ first run in the second inning.
Ramirez’s homer in Game 1 ended a 15-inning scoreless streak for the Indians, who went hitless against Jurado until Mike Freeman lined a single into right-center with two outs in the fifth.
Indians starter Zach Plesac matched Jurado’s scoreless stretch during his six-inning outing, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out seven.
He retired Jose Trevino with two on to end the second inning and Nomar Mazara and All-Star Hunter Pence by strikeout with two on to end the third.
“He battled,” manager Terry Francona said of Plesac. “There were some deeper counts. He never gave in. He made some huge pitches.”
“I could have been more efficient,” Plesac said. “I tried to throw a lot of strikes, and I did, but some foul balls, a couple deep counts — I just ran the pitch count up a little bit more than I wanted to, but (Nick) Goody and (Brad) Hand came in and were super-efficient, so it was a good effort, team effort.”
Cleveland used its bullpen to near perfection in Game 2, with right-hander Tyler Clippard starting and retiring all six batters he faced. He struck out the side in the second.
Hunter Wood and A.J. Cole kept the Rangers scoreless on three hits over the next 42⁄3 innings, but after striking out the final batter in the seventh, left-hander Oliver Perez allowed a leadoff homer to Willie Calhoun in the eighth to pull Texas within a run. Nick Wittgren retired all five hitters he faced in the eighth and ninth.
“I thought they were tremendous,” Francona said of his relievers. “Clippard set the tone and guys went multiple innings and they got lefties and righties out. That’s hard to do. There’s no wiggle room for anybody to really have a bad inning and nobody did. That was really impressive.”
“I’ve said it the whole time I’ve been here: I love this group,” said the veteran Clippard, who signed a minor league deal in the offseason. “We came into the season, I think a lot of the people in the media and the baseball world kind of underestimated the talent that we had in the organization and the guys we brought in. I just love the fact that these guys are doing what they’re doing.”
The Indians responded to Calhoun’s homer by scoring three times in the bottom of the inning on doubles from Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana, a base hit from Yasiel Puig and Kipnis’ second double of the game.
Cleveland heads to Minnesota with plenty of momentum.
“I think we’ve done a good job of controlling what we can control, that’s kind of the best way to go about it,” said Francona, whose pitchers limited Texas to two runs on 15 hits over three games. “We’ve played a lot of baseball lately and guys will be excited for (tonight). It will be a fun series to play. They’re really good, we know that. But they’re also right in front of us, so it’ll be a good challenge.”
“It’s what we wanted,” Kipnis said. “We wanted to play some fun games down the stretch. We wanted to keep chipping away at that lead and grinding every day and trying to not let games slip by us and I think we’ve done that. And the fun part of putting your head to the ground like that is that you get to play some exciting games, some meaningful games late in the year.”