CLEVELAND — The Indians are clicking at the right time. Whether it translates into their first Central Division title since 2007 remains to be seen.
Cleveland secured the series with Minnesota on Saturday night at Progressive Field with a 3-1 victory over the Twins that gave the Indians their sixth win in nine games.
With a month-plus remaining in the regular season, the Indians, who trail the first-place Tigers by three games in the standings, have begun to pick up steam as a pivotal stretch approaches.
“There are a lot of signs (now) of how we played in April,” said closer Chris Perez, whose team got off to the best start in baseball and owned the majors’ top record over the majority of the first two months of the season. “It was a good recipe. It got us off to a good start.
“This is crunch time. It’s time to get going.”
The Indians got going against the Twins thanks to another quality start from Josh Tomlin, one big hit from All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and another suffocating effort from the bullpen.
Tomlin lasted just 6 1/3 innings (84 pitches), but he allowed only a run on four hits to improve to 12-5 with a 3.97 ERA in 24 starts. The right-hander has worked at least five innings in each of his first 36 career starts, which is the longest streak in the majors since 1919.
“Tomlin was terrific again,” manager Manny Acta said. “He pitched ahead in the count all night and gave us a great opportunity to win the ballgame.”
“I didn’t feel great but I was able to go out and make pitches when I needed to,” said Tomlin, who didn’t allow a run and just two hits over the first six innings. “I was able to keep hitters off balance.”
Tomlin had not won since July 15, taking no decisions in three outings and a loss in another over the span.
“What counts is how many games the Indians win,” Acta said. “Those guys understand that. They give us an opportunity to win and then they can’t control the rest.”
Despite the Indians putting runners aboard in each inning, Tomlin was backed by just one swing of the bat from Cabrera, who clouted a three-run home run for all of his team’s runs in the third.
Cabrera, who already has more homers this season (20) then he owned in his career before the year began, became just the third Cleveland shortstop to reach the 20-homer plateau, joining Woodie Held (1958-64) and Jhonny Peralta (2003-10) — both players accomplishing the feat three times apiece. Cabrera is four homers shy of tying Peralta for the most by an Indians shortstop over a single season.
“Cabby was our offensive hero today,” Acta said. “He’s done it for us the whole year and he’s going to continue to do it if he stays healthy.”
With a 3-0 lead, two on and one out in the seventh, Acta turned to his bullpen, one the American League’s best, and the relief corps didn’t let him down.
Though Joe Smith allowed the only run credited to Tomlin on a base hit from Delmon Young, he ended the seventh with limited damage before handing it over to Tony Sipp in the eighth and Perez in the ninth.
Both Sipp and Perez retired the side in order, with Perez ending the game by striking out Jim Thome on three pitches — all called strikes.
“When we have the opportunity to match up, we’re pretty tough,” said Perez, who converted his 25th save in 28 chances. “We’re not easy to hit against. We know if we’re up after five (innings), we’re going to win.”
With two games down, Thome is still stuck at 598 career homers. He went 0-for-2 with a walk in the series opener, and was hitless with a walk in four trips to the plate Saturday.
Now that they have fallen behind the Tigers, the Indians know they have to string together some victories to keep the heat on Detroit.
“We all want to start a streak, obviously,” Tomlin said. “Everybody’s playing their tails off. The effort is there.”
Will the wins and a division title be there in the end?
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.