MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins were once an organization lauded for fundamentals, often fielding a team that was one of the best fielding teams in the major leagues.
Defense, these days, is one of their many problems.
Mike Napoli hit a mammoth home run on the first pitch of the fifth inning to give Cleveland the lead, and the Indians hung on to beat the Twins 5-4 on Friday night and maintain their six-game lead in the AL Central.
The Indians won for the ninth time in their last 11 games on the strength of a four-run third that was sparked by a throwing error by Twins starter Tyler Duffey.
“I make that play 99 out of 100 times. That’s really frustrating,” Duffey said.
After barely hitting Jason Kipnis with a 2-2 pitch to start the inning, the ball grazing his jersey, Duffey snagged a comebacker by Francisco Lindor that could have triggered a double play. The throw was low to second base, eluding shortstop Jorge Polanco.
“If I turn that double play, it’s a different ballgame,” Duffey said. “I came up looking. I think I let the umpire deter my eyes a little bit, but ultimately I’ve got to get an out regardless so that’s my fault.”
With one out, Jose Ramirez hit a single that glanced off Duffey’s foot to load the bases. Then came Lonnie Chisenhall’s two-run double, and Tyler Naquin later tacked on an RBI single for a 4-2 lead.
The Twins lead the league with 110 errors, already their highest season total in five years and on pace for their most since 1980. They made three highlight-reel plays, diving stops of grounders by Joe Mauer at first and Miguel Sano at third and a sliding catch by Max Kepler in right, but the mistake by Duffey made a bigger impact.
Polanco was also charged with an error in the second inning for missing a throw from second baseman Brian Dozier that could’ve started a double play, but Duffey worked his way out of that jam.
Manager Paul Molitor acknowledged being concerned by the defense.
“One of those things that, year’s end, we’ll kind of break down and see what we can do to maybe address trying to improve,” Molitor said.
Indians starter Danny Salazar was removed after four innings due to tightness in his right forearm as a precaution, having been on the disabled list for elbow inflammation a month ago, but five relievers combined for five scoreless innings with only one hit allowed.
Joe Colon (1-1) completed the fifth inning for the victory and Cody Allen finished the ninth for his 27th save in 30 attempts, as the Indians started their final stretch of 23 games, all intra-division affairs. They’re only 9-8 against the Twins, who are on track for 100-plus losses.
Napoli’s drive off Duffey (8-11) was estimated by the Twins at 456 feet, landing in the third deck above left field three sections over from the foul pole.
That followed Byron Buxton’s two-out, two-run homer that tied the game against Salazar in the fourth. Joe Mauer also went deep and Brian Dozier added an RBI double, but the Twins lost for the 23rd time in their last 29 games.
Buxton’s home run glanced off the back wall of the Twins bullpen in left-center, traveling an estimated 429 feet. The 22-year-old Buxton has five of his eight career home runs in the eight games since his recall from Triple-A on Sept. 1.
“I just think that he’s continuing to find ways to be a better hitter,” Molitor said.
The Twins have 176 home runs, putting them on pace to pass 200 for only the third season in club history and the first time since 1964.
Twins RHP Trevor May (back strain) and LHP Tommy Milone (biceps tendinitis) were reinstated from the DL before the game.
The Indians will send RHP Mike Clevinger (2-2, 5.30 ERA) to the mound on Saturday, and LHP Hector Santiago (11-8, 4.91 ERA) will pitch for the Twins.