MINNEAPOLIS — Josh Willingham’s tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning sent the Minnesota Twins to a 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Monday night.
Kurt Suzuki had a two-run double among his three hits, Trevor Plouffe hit an RBI double and the Twins beat the Indians at home for the first time in more than 11 months.
Suzuki, a first-time All-Star selection who was the catcher for the ninth inning of the American League’s victory here at Target Field last week, posted his ninth three-hit game this season. He raised his batting average to .311 and is 25 for 63 in his last 17 games.
In another All-Star game reprise, Glen Perkins pitched a perfect ninth for his 23rd save in 26 chances.
One week ago, the Home Run Derby was delayed by rain on a cool, autumn-like evening. Tack on about 30 degrees and thick humidity, and that’s what the conditions were like for this series opener, which began with a first-pitch temperature of 89 degrees.
Willingham sent the sweaty Twins fans home happy with his dead-pull line drive that just cleared the left-field wall against Bryan Shaw (4-2), his ninth homer and only his second this month.
Casey Fien (5-4) picked up the win after letting the Indians tie the game in the eighth on an RBI single by Roberto Perez that cost Twins starter Kris Johnson his first career victory.
The Indians lead the major leagues with 162 runs in the seventh inning or later this season. After winning three of four games at first-place Detroit last weekend, they arrived at Target Field with a deficit in the AL Central of 5 1/2 games.
Teetering on the brink of veteran-sell-off mode before the trade deadline, the Twins emerged from the All-Star break by being swept by Tampa Bay. But they snapped back from that and, in their first time hosting the Indians this year, ended a six-game home losing streak to their division rivals.
The Indians lost shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to spasms in his lower back after two innings. Chris Dickerson delivered a pinch-hit RBI single in his place, and Mike Aviles quickly shifted back to his natural shortstop spot after his first start of the season in center field. Nick Swisher also played right field for the first time this year in another mild surprise with manager Terry Francona’s lineup.
Yan Gomes hit third, having not batted higher than fifth all season and getting most of his time in the seventh slot, and hit an RBI double. He’s 10 for 21 with five RBIs in his last six games.
Johnson finished five innings in his third major league start, his longest appearance yet.
Due to Justin Masterson being on the disabled list with inflammation in his right knee and a doubleheader they had last weekend, the Indians have had a little shuffling to do in the rotation. Rookie T.J. House, who made eight starts earlier this season, was recalled from Triple-A Columbus to take the mound in Minnesota.
House also completed five innings, giving up three runs. The Twins could’ve scored more, but Plouffe was thrown out attempting to advance after his double in the third when the cutoff man, Aviles, dropped the throw.
Suzuki was also thrown out on the bases when he tried to stretch a single in the fourth.
NOTES: The Twins tabbed rookie RHP Yohan Pino (1-2, 4.39 ERA) to pitch Tuesday, his sixth major league start. Pino will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester for the third time in a little more than a month. The Indians will also bring their starter, RHP Danny Santana, up from Triple-A. Santana (1-4, 5.53) was sent to Columbus on May 16. ... Twins 1B Joe Mauer (strained muscle on his right side) took grounders before the game. Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire, asked whether he had ever hurt an oblique in his playing days, quipped, “I didn’t even know I had one. I never swung good enough to really actually pull an oblique.” ... Indians All-Star Michael Brantley started the game on the bench for a break and hit a pinch-hit double in the eighth. He stayed in the game in center field. ... CF Michael Bourn joined the Indians for the road trip, though he’s not yet ready to return from his strained left hamstring. He has resumed throwing and hitting off a tee, with light jogging. ... Masterson made a rehab start for Columbus on Sunday and will need one more Friday, Francona said, before returning to the Indians.