CLEVELAND — The Minnesota Twins are halfway to another division title. Now if they could just get fully healthy.
Miguel Sano hit a two-run homer and Nelson Cruz connected for a solo shot to lead the injury-riddled Twins to a 3-2 win over the Cleveland Indians on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series between the AL Central’s top teams.
Sano homered in the sixth inning off Aaron Civale (3-3) as the Twins hit the halfway point of this 60-game season in the same place they ended 2019. Minnesota stopped Cleveland’s three-year reign atop the division last year.
The Twins, who have several regulars and two starting pitchers on the injured list, lead the Indians by 2 1/2 games.
“This is a very sneaky, very good effort,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. “We never say we need anything. This was a very important game in a lot of different ways. We’re obviously playing a divisional opponent, we’re in a situation where our bullpen has dealt with different things over the past few days.
“There were multiple guys not pitching today. It’s a very easy day to lose concentration.”
Kenta Maeda (4-0) gave up a leadoff homer in the first to Cesar Hernandez and then dodged trouble for the next four before turning it over to Minnesota’s bullpen.
Trevor May gave up Carlos Santana’s two-out RBI single in the seventh to make it 3-2, but the right-hander struck out slugger Franmil Reyes with runners at the corners to end the threat.
After Sergio Romo worked the eighth and chirped at Cleveland’s dugout afterward, Taylor Rogers pitched the ninth for his seventh save.
Cleveland’s offensive woes continue. The Indians have scored two runs or fewer in 14 games. They went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners.
“We gotta start stringing hits together,” said Sandy Alomar Jr., who filled in again for manager Terry Francona. “We’re not doing that. That’s the ballgame right there.”
Francona, who underwent surgery on a gastrointestinal condition last week, missed 15 games and will not be back in this series.
Before the game, Alomar amplified the importance of the three-game set.
“Every series in the pandemic is big,” he said.
And Minnesota’s big bats came through.
Cruz, who seems to save his best swings inside the Central, tied it 1-1 in the fourth with his 11th homer.
Since joining the Twins in 2019, Cruz has hit 35 homers and driven in 93 runs in 79 division games. It was his 412th career homer, tying him with Alfonso Soriano for 54th place.
In the sixth, Eddie Rosario doubled with one out off Civale before Sano drove a 1-0 pitch over the wall in right. Sano has an extra-base hit in eight consecutive games.
“He is scalding balls,” Baldelli said of Sano. “He really does make the ballpark look very tiny when he hits it on the barrel whether he hits it in the air and its leaving the yard or even those line drives that he hits that find a little bit of space.”
Civale said the Twins are a handful and more.
“This whole lineup is a chess match, top to bottom,” Civale said. “They have a complete lineup. I made mistakes and they made me pay.”
Hernandez made Indians history with his second leadoff homer in consecutive days. He’s the first Cleveland player to do that since 1901.
Maeda carried a no-hitter into his previous start on Aug. 18 at Milwaukee. There would be no flirtation with history this time as Hernandez opened the first by hitting the right-hander’s third pitch over the wall in right-center.
TALK THE TALK
The animated Romo struck out Greg Allen to end the eighth and pointed at the Indians dugout. The bearded right-hander continued jawing at Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez as they warmed up between innings.
“Who cares?” Alomar said. “Whatever.”
The Indians have not announced a starter for Wednesday’s series finale. It could be either Mike Clevinger or Zach Plesac, both recently demoted for at least 10 days after breaking team COVID-19 protocols.
“I hope that these guys get over the Plescac and Clevinger situation,” Alomar said. “We would love to have one of those guys pitch, if we could but that’s a decision the Indians gotta make.”
Twins: RHP Tyler Clippard could be sidelined for a few days — or wind up on the IL — after he was hit in the arm by a line drive Sunday. Baldelli called the incident “frightening for him, for everybody watching.” Clippard will continue to get treatment before the team makes any roster moves.
Indians: OF Delino DeShields didn’t start for the second straight game because of left hip tightness. … C Sandy Leon was activated from the family medical emergency list.
Shane Bieber (5-0) has been arguably baseball’s best pitcher to this point in 2020. The Indians’ newly crowned ace tries to stay unbeaten when he faces Twins left-hander Rich Hill, who makes just his second career start against Cleveland.