Tribe suffers first loss to Twins this season.
Maybe it was simply too much to ask for.
The Indians on Saturday night attempted to become the first team ever to beat Minnesota ace Johan Santana three times in the same season. Santana, however, would have no part of it. He was in Cy Young Award form most of the evening, and his teammates pushed across a run in the ninth inning to nip Cleveland, 3-2, at Jacobs Field.
“That might have been as good as we’ve ever seen Santana,” Manager Eric Wedge said. “He was a handful tonight.”
The Indians, with their first loss to the Twins this season (6-1) missed an opportunity to take over first place in the Central Division. Cleveland remains a half-game behind Detroit.
The second sellout crowd of 2007 (41,203) was treated to a fine pitching duel between Santana and Jake Westbrook, although both had to settle for no-decisions. The victory instead went to Pat Neshek (6-1), who pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth for Minnesota, and the loss to Joe Borowski (2-4).
Torii Hunter led off with a double to the gap in left-center and advanced to third on a groundout. Indians second baseman Mike Rouse fielded Brian Buscher’s ground ball and tried to cut down Hunter at home plate, but his high throw was out of reach for catcher Victor Martinez. Hunter slid under Martinez, and across home plate, with the winning run.
“With the way the ball was hit, (Rouse) had to come home right there,” Wedge said. “A good throw gets him, but the throw took Victor out of it.”
“I tried to get rid of it as fast as I could,” Rouse said.
Westbrook survived a rough third inning to work through the seventh, one of his best
starts of the season.
Minnesota’s No. 9 batter, Jason Tyner, drove Westbrook’s cut fastball into the visitors’ bullpen in right field for a home run. Fans familiar with Tyner were rubbing their eyes in disbelief, as the skinny backup outfielder had never hit a homer in a big-league career that had spanned 389 games and 1,220 at-bats. The sight of Tyner rounding the bases would be enough to unnerve any pitcher, and three of the next four batters reached safely, including Justin Morneau’s RBI single.
“I thought it was a good cutter, up-and-in,” Westbrook said. “Either he was looking for it or he just put good wood on it. Hats off to him.”
Westbrook hung tough, however, and kept the score at 2-0 until the Indians could come back. It was only the second time this season he has allowed fewer than three earned runs. The right-hander is still seeking his first victory since April 27.
“I felt strong,” Westbrook said. “I felt like I made some quality pitches.”
Santana did “dominant” one better through the first five innings. He faced the minimum 15 batters, striking out 10 and allowing one fly ball to the outfield. No. 2 hitter Casey Blake walked in the first inning, but was erased on a double-play ground ball.
Grady Sizemore’s two-out double to right broke up the no-hitter in the sixth. Then, in the seventh, Santana finally began to look human.
Martinez led off with a single to center. Travis Hafner fell behind in the count 1-2, but lashed a high fastball 418 feet, halfway up the lower deck in right field. His 17th home run of the season tied the score at 2-2.
When Jhonny Peralta followed with a single two batters later, it was a signal that Santana’s night was almost over. Peralta had been 2-for-24 with 19 strikeouts against Santana before that plate appearance. Two batters later, Santana was out of the game after seven innings, 12 strikeouts and 114 pitches.
Minnesota third-base coach Scott Ullger was struck by a line-drive off Blake’s bat while sitting in the dugout during the ninth inning. Ullger did not sustain any serious injuries.
Reach Canton Repository sports writer Andy Call at (330) 580-8346 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.