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Twins sweep DH from Indians, cut magic number to 9

USA Today Photo Minnesota Twins second baseman Jonathan Schoop (16) turns a double play beside shortstop Jorge Polanco (11) and Cleveland Indians second baseman Mike Freeman (6) in the second inning Saturday, Sept. 14, against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

CLEVELAND — The Twins walked into Progressive Field on Saturday morning knowing a good day would give them a lead that would be likely insurmountable and a bad day would crank up the pressure.

Two wins would give them a healthy 5 ½ game lead with just 14 games left, a split would put them 3 ½ games up in their division, exactly how they entered the day, and a pair of losses would have tightened the division race to just 1 ½ games with one more game to go against the Indians.

In arguably the most important day of the season, everything seemed to come up Twins. Five Twins relievers combined to shut out the Indians 2-0 in the afternoon opener at Progressive Field and the Twins mounted a late comeback complete with a Miguel Sano eighth inning grand slam to win 9-5 on Saturday night.

The Twins (91-57) knew calling upon their bullpen for 18 innings in Saturday’s doubleheader against Cleveland (86-63) would be a tall task, but they were confident the bullpen would be up for the job.

With some help from some timely home runs, they were right.

The doubleheader sweep opened up the Twins’ American League Central lead to 5 ½ games and cut their magic number for winning the division to nine.

Sano’s home run was one of three for the Twins in the nightcap — Eddie Rosario and Nelson Cruz each hit a two-run home run of their own.

It came a couple batters after a run-scoring double from Jorge Polanco tied the game. Polanco 3-for-5 in the nightcap hours after he made a run-saving catch and provided the only offense with a two-run home run in the first game of the doubleheader.

When Devin Smeltzer, who started the first game of the doubleheader, started to run into trouble in the third inning and loaded the bases, Polanco snared a ball hit off Carlos Santana’s bat at 107.9 mph to end the threat and save a run or two.

Polanco said he knew he was going to catch the ball, but it took him slightly longer to dive because the ball was tailing away from him.

“That’s a game-changing play,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “If he makes the play, we have an opportunity to win the game like we did. If he doesn’t make the play, who knows?”

His two-run home run was the only offense off Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger, who otherwise pitched well: six hits allowed and 10 strikeouts in eight innings. Polanco hit a two-run home run Friday, but it was erased when the game was called because of rain after 2½ innings.

“Rarely do the baseball gods kind of shine upon people like that,” Baldelli said.

Clevinger’s strong outing went for naught as Twins pitchers gave up just five hits. After Smeltzer, Zack Littell threw two innings, Tyler Duffey went 1 2/3, Sergio Romo recorded a pair of outs and Taylor Rogers picked up a 1 2/3-inning save.

The bullpen also received strong performances in the second game, getting scoreless appearances from Cody Stashak, Brusdar Graterol — who hit 100 miles per hour multiple times — and Trevor May after Lewis Thorpe gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings to begin the game.

“With the double bullpen day, I think anybody here would take our bullpen over their bullpen any day,” Littell, who threw two scoreless innings and picked up the win, said. “I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way to them. It’s just … our guys have confidence with the way we’re throwing the ball right now in the whole second half.”

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