video thumbnail

CLE@MIN: Duncan drives a two-run double to left

MINNEAPOLIS -- Indians manager Manny Acta described it as his team's own little race. A division title is off the table, so Cleveland has shifted its focus and adjusted its goals. What remains is a push for second place and a winning record.

Do not think that the Tribe is taking this lightly.

"That's our new goal," Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan said following a 6-5 win over the Twins on Sunday. "We're going to take a lot of pride in finishing second. After the expectations people had for this team before the year, it would mean a lot to us.

"I also believe it'd mean a lot to the fans in Cleveland. They really got behind us this year."

Over the next seven days, Cleveland will wrap up its home portion of the 2011 slate with nine games -- including doubleheaders on Tuesday and Saturday. It will be the local crowd's final chance to get a glimpse of this season's squad. If the team looks like the one that just notched a three-game sweep over Minnesota, there is hope indeed.

Duncan powered a six-run onslaught in the seventh inning during Sunday's series finale at Target Field, belting a solo home run and a two-run double in the decisive frame. That helped Indians starter Justin Masterson (12-10) earn a win after a solid six-inning effort, in which he limited the damage of four errors on a rainy day.

"It was just one of those weird days," said Masterson, who is now tied with Josh Tomlin for the team high in wins. "It turned out to end up in our favor. I was hoping for four runs, and our guys were like, 'Hey, we'll score six for you.' You can't ask for much more than that."

The sweep -- the first in a three-game set in Minnesota for the Indians since 2007 -- followed a three-game sweep at the hands of the American League West-leading Rangers down in Texas. Cleveland's latest three wins were not necessarily the prettiest, but it was a sound way to recover from the woes found in the Lone Star state.

"This was a good bounceback series after being swept in Texas," said Indians manager Manny Acta, whose club ended this 10-game road trip at 5-5.

Prior to Friday's game against the Twins, it was Acta who called a team meeting to discuss some new goals for the season's final two weeks. The manager did not want Detroit's AL Central celebration to deal an unnecessary blow to the morale in Cleveland's clubhouse.

The sweep over the struggling Twins, who have lost 13 of their past 14 games, brought the Indians (75-75) back to a .500 record. It also moved the Tribe two games ahead of the White Sox for second place in the division. Cleveland had higher aspirations, but ending with a winning record as the Central's runner-up would be a welcome consolation.

"It's very important in our mind," Acta said. "We're not done yet. We've got a lot of games to play yet, especially with two doubleheaders coming up. It's very important to us. Our goal is to finish second and to play above .500. Going back home, it's very important and, hopefully, we can have a good homestand.

"That's what we're shooting for, and ending the season on a very positive note."

Twins starter Carl Pavano (8-13) held the Indians off the scoreboard early, limiting them to just three singles, through the first six innings on Sunday. That all changed in the seventh, when Duncan opened an offensive onslaught by drilling a 1-2 changeup into the second deck above left field for a home run that cut Minnesota's lead to 3-1.

The home run was Duncan's 10th of the season.

Pavano was later pulled with two outs and the bases loaded. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire first turned to Jose Mijares, who walked Jason Kipnis to force in a run. Gardenhire then handed the ball to Alex Burnett, who did the same against Carlos Santana to deadlock the game at 3.

"It's my fault," Gardenhire said. "I brought those guys in with the expectation they would throw the ball over the plate and take our chances. But they didn't do it, so I'll take the blame."

Next up on the hill was Glen Perkins, who fired a pitch to Indians slugger Jim Thome with an extreme defensive shift in play. Thome shattered his bat and sent a slow roller to the right side of the field into no-man's land, allowing him to reach on an unlikely infield single. That pushed the Tribe in front, 4-3.

"It was placed perfectly, and he was able to beat it out," Acta said.

"He was hauling up that line," Duncan said with a chuckle.

Thome's flight up the first-base line brought Duncan back to the batter's box, and the left fielder responded by hammering a pitch from Perkins off the wall in left to plate two runs. That 6-3 cushion withstood a shaky performance by Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano, who issued two bases-loaded walks in the eighth.

Duncan's heroics also put the Indians a step closer to achieving their altered goals.

"We gave it a run for our money, as much as we could, to win this division," Duncan said. "We want to finish on a high note, almost to give [the fans] the feeling that we're going to be for real for the future. There's a lot of young players on this team that can really be good for years ahead.

"I think finishing in second place would mean a lot to the guys in here, in terms of confidence for the organization and the fans."

MLB.com Comments