MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The best pitcher in baseball this season by so many measures, Cleveland's Shane Bieber has made so few mistakes.
Byron Buxton prepared himself for the rare occasion and sent a misplaced slider into the empty seats on the first pitch he saw.
Buxton hit a two-run homer and Kenta Maeda pitched seven shutout innings for Minnesota, as the Twins handed Bieber his first loss of the season on Friday with a 3-1 victory over the Indians.
“He's tough. We got him tonight because we stayed focused,” said Buxton, who followed Jake Cave's double in the second with his seventh home run of the season. “That’s what it takes to go out there and beat one of the best pitchers in the league.”
Bieber (7-1) yielded five hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings, matching a season-most three runs allowed on the homers by Buxton and rookie Ryan Jeffers. This was the first time the right-hander was taken deep in six starts.
“It really came down to I made two mistakes,” said the 25-year-old Bieber, who's quickly become the leader of a stout rotation that has seen Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger all traded within the last 14 months.
The hitting is another story for the Indians. They've scored three runs in the last 33 innings, continuing a downward trend that began last season. Francisco Lindor batted leadoff for the first time this year, but the Indians didn't get a runner to second base until the ninth. Lindor led off the sixth with a single and was promptly picked off first base.
“I know what we can do as a team offensively. I’ve been on the wrong end of it many times," said Bieber, whose baseball-best ERA rose from 1.32 to a mere 1.53.
Bieber still became the fastest starting pitcher since 1900 to reach 100 strikeouts in a season, hitting the milestone in 62 1/3 innings, two fewer outs than Washington's Max Scherzer in 2018.
“He’s not going to leave a ton of pitches right in the middle of the strike zone," Jeffers said. "So you’ve got to attack from pitch one, and I think we did a really good job of that.”
Taylor Rogers gave up a homer to José Ramírez in the ninth, then finished his ninth save. The Twins (28-18) improved to 8-2 in September and 19-5 at their empty home ballpark.
Minnesota stayed one game behind Chicago (28-16) in the American League Central race, pushing Cleveland (26-19) to 2 1/2 games back.
For the second time this week, the Twins played through raw, damp conditions, this time after a 42-minute rain delay. Maeda (5-1) was more than up to the task, allowing just four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. Maeda, in his first season with Minnesota, has been no slouch, lowering his ERA to 2.43. His walks-and-hits-per-inning rate is the best in baseball.
“I’m trying to fulfill the expectations that the team has for me," Maeda said through an interpreter. "I think I’ve been doing that pretty well.”
WORDS WITH FRIENDS
Sergio Romo pitched a perfect eighth for the Twins, adding some spice to the night when he finished the inning with a flyout by Lindor. The flamboyant Romo was jawing at Lindor as he jogged past along the first-base line, before Lindor charged at him and Romo kept on shouting. Both benches and bullpens emptied, but each team was able to diffuse the tension without incident. The tiff between the players predated this series.
“It's just a couple of players who continually interact with each other when they probably shouldn’t,” Baldelli said, “and I think it would probably be better if they didn’t.”
Romo's animated expressions after critical outs have rankled several opponents this season.
“If he’s going to dish it, we’re going to dish it back. He has to take it,” acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said.
Indians: Ramírez was back in the lineup at 3B, after missing two of the prior three games with a sore thumb. Manager Terry Francona missed his 31st game because of a stomach problem that required surgery and hospitalization, with Alomar Jr. filling in. Francona was in Minnesota on the team's first road trip on Aug. 2 when the illness forced him out of the dugout.
Twins: 2B Luis Arraez was placed on the injured list with tendinitis in his left knee that has bothered him for most of the season. He's 6 for 13 with four runs, three RBIs and two doubles this month. Marwin González again took his place in the field.
Indians: RHP Zach Plesac (3-1, 1.32 ERA) pitches on Saturday night. He has walked only two batters in 34 innings this season.
Twins: LHP Rich Hill (1-1, 3.86 ERA) takes the mound for the middle game of the series, his sixth start of the season.
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