CLEVELAND — The Guardians were about to slide further back in the AL Central. Amed Rosario jammed on the brakes.
Rosario's clutch two-run single in the eighth inning rallied Cleveland to a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins in the first game of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday, snapping the Guardians' five-game losing streak.
“We hung on,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. "There were some things that didn’t go right, but we won.”
Down 2-1 and in danger of dropping four games behind the first-place Twins, the Guardians came back against reliever Emilio Pagán (1-3), who walked Myles Straw and rookie Steven Kwan before facing Rosario.
Cleveland's shortstop then slapped a 3-2 pitch through the middle to give the Guardians a major lift. When he rounded first, Rosario, who went 3 for 4 and has five three-hit games in June, skipped in the air.
“It’s just part of the emotion of the moment,” he said through a translator. “I know we’ve had a couple of rough games, but because of that, we didn’t put our heads down, we just kept going.”
The division rivals are playing five times in four days during a stretch in which they'll meet eight times in 10 days.
And while there's three-plus months to go, every game matters.
“It’s like the playoffs, we already know how that is,” said Guardians starter Zach Plesac, who blanked the Twins on three hits over six innings. "These games are like a playoff-type atmosphere. Its definitely going to be a close game. We’re not looking ahead, but these games are important.
“In the end when we look back, these are the games that count in the standings, so it’s definitely important.”
Carlos Correa's homer leading off the eighth had given the Twins a 2-1 lead. Correa connected on a 1-0 pitch from reliever Sam Hentges (2-0), driving his ninth homer — and fourth in five games against Cleveland this season — just over the railing in left field.
Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase worked the ninth for his 18th save in 20 tries.
Minnesota starter Devin Smeltzer was as effective as Plesac, holding the Guardians to just one run and striking out nine in six innings.
Cleveland's run off Smeltzer was a gift. With Rosario on first with a single, Franmil Reyes’ high pop dropped inside the line in front of right fielder Max Kepler, who either lost it in the sun or never saw it off the bat.
Smeltzer shook off the misplay and had his second straight strong outing against the Guardians. He threw six shutout inning on June 23 to beat them.
“I felt physically pretty good today,” he said. “But I was in a really good head space. When I'm in a good head space, it's very easy to brush off the little things and just keep moving on. It's super early in that game and if you let things snowball it's going to be a disaster. So you got to brush it off and execute.”
Between games, the Twins reinstated infielder Jorge Polanco from the 10-day injured list. He had been out with lower back tightness, an ailment that landed him in the IL for the first time in the majors.
To make roster room, Minnesota optioned outfielder Mark Contreras to Triple-A St. Paul.
NEW, OLD GUY
Plesac threw to catcher Sandy León, who was reacquired in a trade from Cincinnati before the game. The Guardians were in a bind with catcher Austin Hedges going on the injured list with a concussion sustained last weekend.
León was with Cleveland for 25 games in 2020.
“It was awesome,” Plesac said. “He’s great how he plays.”
ON THE MOUND
Looking to save his bullpen for the doubleheader, Francona used utilityman Ernie Clement to pitch the ninth in Monday's 11-1 blowout loss. Clement gave up two runs but got an inning-ending double play.
Francona had a similar experience, pitching as a position player for Milwaukee against Oakland in 1989.
“If you look, we had one strikeout as a staff that day,” he said with a smile. “It was me. Struck out Stan Javier. Then it kind of got me going. Went up to Seattle the next day and hit a home run. For about the next month kind of swung the bat a little better. It was kind of fun.”
Twins: OF Trevor Larnach (core muscle strain) had successful surgery in Philadelphia. The 25-year-old had been bothered by increasing pain and opted for the operation. He's expected to resume baseball activities in six weeks.
Twins rookie Josh Winder (2-2) will start against Guardians rookie Konnor Pilkington (1-0), who will be making his sixth start.