By Steve Herrick
CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians looked like a first-place team, Thursday.
Carlos Santana hit a three-run homer, Francisco Lindor added a two-run shot and the AL Central leaders salvaged the finale of a four-game series with Minnesota, 9-2.
The Indians were outscored 35-16 by the last-place Twins in the first three games. Cleveland is 5-8 against Minnesota and 26-8 against the rest of the division.
“They were the best team in baseball these past three days,” Lindor said. “It was unreal watching them. I’m glad they’re out of here.”
Indians manager Terry Francona was relieved to see his team take an early 4-0 lead, powered by Santana’s home run in the third and Jason Kipnis’ solo shot in the first.
“We had gotten beat around the ballpark for three days,” Francona said. “It definitely felt good.”
Santana homered off Hector Santiago (10-5), who made his first start with the Twins since being acquired from the Los Angeles Angels on Monday.
Lindor homered in Cleveland’s three-run seventh. Kipins hit his career-high 18th home run and Jose Ramirez added a solo homer in the eighth.
Dan Otero (3-1), who worked out of a fifth-inning jam, retired all four hitters he faced. Andrew Miller, acquired from the New York Yankees on Sunday, struck out three in 1 1/3 innings.
The Indians traded four minor leaguers for Miller, one of the most dominating relievers in baseball. The left-hander struck out Byron Buxton to end the sixth. He whiffed Joe Mauer, who homered off Miller on Monday, and Max Kepler in the seventh.
Cleveland’s starting pitchers worked a combined 8 1/3 innings over the first three games. A total of 14 relievers pitched 18 2/3 innings and the overworked bullpen forced Francona to use Miller in the sixth.
“That won’t happen a lot,” Francona said. “This is a little bit of a unique situation. To wait didn’t seem to make sense.”
Brian Dozier hit a leadoff homer in the fifth for Minnesota, which scored in double figures in the first three games.
Rajai Davis stole second and third before scoring on a wild pitch in the seventh.
Santiago had won seven straight decisions and lost for the first time since June 10, also to the Indians. The left-hander was acquired in a four-player deal that sent pitcher Ricky Nolasco to the Angels.
“It was a pretty good game for six innings, and I thought we were right in it until things fell apart,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
Rookie Mike Clevinger, recalled before the game, allowed two runs in 4 1/3 innings.
The win moved Cleveland three games ahead of Detroit in the Central.
“There’s no point in rushing,” Lindor said. “There are a lot of games left.”
The Indians claimed utilityman Michael Martinez off waivers from Boston. He’ll be added to the 25-man roster before Friday’s game in New York.
Clevinger and left-hander Ryan Merritt were called up from Triple-A Columbus.
Twins: Third-baseman Trevor Plouffe (broken left rib) is expected to be recalled Monday from his rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester.
Twins: RHP Ervin Santana will open a three-game series in Tampa Bay. He went six innings, allowing one earned run, in winning his last start July 31 against the Chicago White Sox.
Indians: RHP Josh Tomlin, pitching on extended five days rest, takes the mound to begin a three-game series at the Yankees. He is 6-1 with a 2.75 ERA on the road this season.
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