CLEVELAND (AP) — Max Kepler homered three times and José Berríos locked up Cleveland’s lineup into the seventh inning as the Minnesota Twins avoided a sweep — and their first three-game losing streak — by beating the Indians 5-4 on Thursday.
Kepler, who entered hitless in his previous 21 at-bats, connected in the first, third and seventh innings off Indians starter Trevor Bauer (4-6). Kepler also walked in the fifth.
The 26-year-old outfielder came up in the ninth with a chance to become the 19th player in history to hit four homers in one game — a feat rarer than a perfect game. But left-hander Josh Smith kept the left-handed swinging Kepler in the park, getting him to hit a hard grounder to the right side that he beat out for a single.
It was Kepler’s second career three-homer game. The other one also came against the Indians on Aug. 1, 2016.
The AL-Central leading Twins took the series finale and again moved 10½ games ahead of Cleveland, whose run of three straight division titles could be coming to an end.
Berríos (8-2) had another strong outing against the Indians. The right-hander allowed just one run — a homer by Roberto Pérez — and two hits before being replaced after a leadoff error in the seventh. Berrios beat Cleveland on opening day, when he struck out 10 in 72/3 shutout innings.
Indians rookie Oscar Mercado’s pinch-hit homer in the ninth pulled Cleveland to 5-4 before Taylor Rogers retired Pérez on a groundout for his sixth save.
Baseball’s biggest surprise in 2019, Minnesota has only lost two in a row four times this season. Just one Twins team has gone longer without losing three straight this late: the 1970 squad, which dropped three in a row from June 17-20.
The Indians were hoping to cut into a deficit they never imagined would be so big, so early. But Bauer wasn’t sharp again and the right-hander remained winless since April 30 — a span of seven starts.
Bauer gave up a home run to Kepler on his second pitch and finished allowing five runs and five hits in eight innings. Not bad, but not what Cleveland needed with three full-time starters sidelined with injuries.
Kepler’s second homer gave the Twins a 3-0 lead in the third. After No. 9 hitter Willians Astudillo singled leading off, Kepler ripped a 1-2 pitch just inside the foul pole in right.
Kepler made it 5-1 in the seventh, hitting Bauer’s first pitch over the wall in right-center for his 15th homer.
Bauer has given up 13 homers in 912/3 innings. He allowed just nine over 1751/3 innings in 2018.
Twins: DH Nelson Cruz was not in the starting lineup. The club is being cautious with his workload after he missed 18 games with a strained left wrist.
Indians: RHP Mike Clevinger (strained back muscle) threw 58 pitches in a rehab start at Triple-A Columbus. He’ll likely pitch again for the Clippers before being activated. ... OF Bradley Zimmer had another setback in Goodyear, Arizona. Slated to start a rehab stint this week, Zimmer felt something in his surgically repaired right shoulder while throwing last weekend. Zimmer was nearing a return in March before straining an oblique.