CLEVELAND (AP) — Tommy Milone didn’t expect to start Monday night. Once he wound up on the mound, he kept the Minnesota Twins in the thick of the playoff race.
Subbing for an ill Phil Hughes, Milone pitched the Twins past the Cleveland Indians 4-2 in a game crucial to the wild-card chances of both clubs.
Hughes, one of several Twins players hit with a virus that has spread throughout the team, was scratched from his scheduled start about 4 hours before the game.
Milone (9-5), removed from the rotation two weeks ago, stepped in with a clutch performance and allowed two runs over 5 2-3 innings.
“We all knew how Phil was feeling and it wasn’t out of the question that he might not be able to start,” Milone said. “I came in not expecting to, but in the back of my mind being prepared in case that kind of situation was going to happen.”
Twins manager Paul Molitor wasn’t sure what he’d get from Milone, who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 17.
“My hat goes off to him, getting the late notice and having to pick us up in the final week of the season when we need to win,” Molitor said.
Minnesota (81-75) began the day trailing Houston by 1 1/2 games in the race for the second AL wild card. The Astros played later in Seattle.
The Twins entered a half-game game behind the Los Angeles Angels, who hosted Oakland in a late game.
Milone took control after giving up a solo homer to Francisco Lindor in the first inning, retiring 10 in a row at one point.
“It’s more fun than anything,” Milone said of the stretch run. “Pitching in meaningful games this late in the season, I was excited to get the call.”
The left-hander was sent to the bullpen following two rocky outings in which he allowed 12 runs over five innings. Milone is 3-1 with a 2.16 ERA in six career starts against the Indians.
Cleveland (77-78) was four games behind the Astros before its costly defeat. The Indians fell behind early, managed only six hits and moved closer to elimination before a crowd of only 10,007.
“The energy was low in the crowd and there wasn’t much energy in our dugout, either,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “We can’t have that, especially in our situation.”
Trevor Plouffe, who missed Sunday’s game because of the virus, hit a two-run homer in the first off Corey Kluber (8-16).
Kevin Jepsen worked the ninth for his 14th save.
Kluber, last season’s AL Cy Young Award winner, allowed four runs in six innings and lost to Minnesota for the second time in a week. The right-hander, who missed two weeks with a hamstring injury this month, hasn’t won since Aug. 14.
Kluber retired the first two hitters before allowing three straight extra-base hits, all to left-center field. Joe Mauer doubled and scored on Miguel Sano’s double. Plouffe drove a 1-1 pitch into the bleachers.
Plouffe’s home run broke an 0-for-12 slump. Brian Dozier added a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Lindor’s 11th homer since being called up from the minors on June 12 cut the deficit to 3-1. He added a sacrifice fly in the sixth that scored Kipnis, who tripled.
The win assured the Twins of their first .500 season since 2010 when they won the AL Central with a 94-68 record.
Molitor called the Indians clubhouse shortly after scratching Hughes from his scheduled start. He was told that Cleveland manager Terry Francona was using a treadmill at the time. “Who is he trying to kid about that?” Molitor said, laughing. “When Tito called me back, he said, ‘Thanks a lot. Now I have to change my lineup, too.'”
Indians: OF Michael Brantley started for the second straight game after missing four with a bruised right shoulder.
Twins: RHP Kyle Gibson makes his career-high 32nd start of the season. He is 1-2 with a 6.99 ERA in six career outings against the Indians.
Indians: RHP Cody Anderson seeks to extend his four-game winning streak. He allowed one run in 6 2-3 innings against the Twins last Thursday.
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)