CLEVELAND (AP) — Rookie Gavin Williams and four relievers cooled off Minnesota’s offense and the Cleveland Guardians avoided a three-game sweep with a 2-1 win on Wednesday.
Minnesota still leads second-place Cleveland by six games in the AL Central with 22 games left. The Twins won the first two games of the series against the defending division champs by a combined 28-9 score. Cleveland won the season series 7-6.
While the Guardians will need to go on an extended hot streak and hope for some help, the win avoids an eight-game deficit in the standings.
“If they had taken another one from us we would have had to do something crazy,” said center fielder Myles Straw, who took away an extra base hit from Ryan Jeffers in the second. “I think we still do, but we never really feel like we’re out of it.”
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli doesn’t expect the Guardians to fold up over the remaining days of the season.
“This team plays hard and when a team plays hard that means the pressure is always on you,” he said. “In that sense, they’re different and we’re probably not going to see many teams that play the game like they do.”
The Twins seemingly scored at will Monday and Tuesday. Cleveland’s pitchers responded with a combined two-hitter and 11 strikeouts. Minnesota drew five walks, but was 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
Williams (2-5) didn’t allow a hit until Andrew Stevenson’s RBI single in the fifth. He walked four and struck out four. Royce Lewis singled off Sam Hentges in the sixth. Hentges, Reynaldo López, Nick Sandlin and Emmanuel Clase each worked a scoreless inning. Clase retired all three hitters he faced in the ninth for his 38th save in 47 chances.
Will Brennan had an RBI single in the second and a run-scoring double in the fourth.
Twins starter Joe Ryan (10-9) made his third start since being on the 15-day injured list with a strained groin. The right-hander allowed two runs in four innings.
Minnesota hit six home runs and took the series opener 20-6 on Monday. Lucas Giolito allowed nine runs in three innings in his Cleveland debut. Guardians utility player David Fry pitched the final four innings and allowed seven runs. The Twins scored five runs in the eighth inning in Tuesday’s 8-3 win.
Williams started against Minnesota last week, but was removed after one inning because of a knee injury. The rookie’s only win prior to Wednesday came against Kansas City on July 8.
Williams received a major boost from his outfield defense in the second. Brennan made a sliding catch near the left field line on Willi Castro’s fly ball. Straw ran down Jeffers’ line drive in the gap in left-center and hung on despite a hard landing on his left side.
“It didn’t feel too good,” Straw said of his landing. “I dove and I feel like my glove almost came off and that kind of scared me a little bit. I kind of shut the glove to see if that ball was in there.”
The third inning ended when Williams speared Lewis’ line drive to the mound.
Andrés Giménez had a leadoff double in the second and scored on Brennan’s single. Giménez singled, stole second and scored on Brennan’s fourth-inning double.
The game was delayed by rain for 1 hour, 6 minutes in the bottom of the third.
The Twins took two of three in Texas before this series and head home with momentum facing the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay.
“It’s hard not to like the road trip,” Baldelli said. “We did a lot of the things we wanted to do the last six games.”
STILL A CHANCE
Guardians manager Terry Francona knows the series didn’t produce the desired results, but he isn’t ready to concede defeat.
“I don’t think there’s anything we found out that we didn’t know,” he said. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. We like our guys. We appreciate the way they go about their business. At times we don’t play quite as good as we like, but I like our guys. They give us a pretty honest effort.”
Twins: 1B/OF Alex Kirilloff (right shoulder strain) is hitting .455 (10-for-22) on a minor league rehab assignment.
Twins: Open a three-game series Friday night at home against the New York Yankees. LHP Dallas Keuchel (1-1, 5.96 ERA) will start for Minnesota.
Guardians: RHP Cal Quantrill (2-6, 6,16 ERA) is the scheduled starter in the opener of a four-game road series Thursday night against the Los Angeles Angels.