The Cleveland Indians have struggled to play "clean baseball" through the first 34 games of the regular season, but while they lead all of Major League Baseball with 34 errors, the team came up with several defensive gems to preserve a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Progressive Field Wednesday night.
The defensive plays started in the first inning when third baseman Carlos Santana barehanded Brian Dozier's bunt attempt down the foul line and fired an on-the-mark throw to Nick Swisher at first base for the out.
That was one of three of Santana's defensive plays, as in the top of the fourth inning, he made a diving stop on a sharply-hit ball from Twins first baseman Chris Colabello, and hopped back up before firing a throw down to first for the out.
In the ninth inning, Santana tracked a foul ball near the stands, and battled the home fans for position on the warning track before securing the final out of the inning.
"What was really kind of exciting was the best play that he made came after he struck out to end the (third) inning," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It was the first play of the inning and he left his feet. That made the play even better.
"What we try to talk about so much is, 'Just play the game' because when you're scuffling somewhere, if you can pick it up somewhere else, it makes you feel better. If you're just worried about your at-bats, it makes the game harder. It is hard because everyone wants to go out and hit .300, but when you can go out and do other things, it not only helps you. It helps the team. It works."
In addition to Santana, second baseman Mike Aviles made a run-saving stop in the top of the seventh inning.
With the tying runs in, Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe hit a rocket ground ball up the middle, but it took a funny carom before Aviles was able to stop it. The veteran infielder quickly scrambled to his feet and beat center fielder Sam Fuld in a footrace to second base for the inning-ending force out.
"Honestly, I think the bounce on the mound actually helped me," Aviles told Sportstime Ohio. "When he hit it, I thought it was going to go up the middle. When it hit the mound, it kind of moved a little to the right. I felt like I had a chance.
"I figured, 'Hey, let me at least knock this ball down.' When I dove, it went into my glove, and I said, 'Get up and step on second' because I knew Fuld was running to second and I knew I didn't have much time. I guess the stars are aligned."
While Santana came up with defensive plays throughout the game and Aviles during a clutch situation in the seventh, the Indians' outfielders got into the act early in the victory.
In the top of the second inning, Colabello belted a hit to left field, but attempted to stretch the single into a double. Brantley threw the ball in from left and Aviles applied the tag for the out.
Then, in the third inning, center fielder Nyjer Morgan robbed Twins designated hitter Josmil Pinto of extra bases when he jumped at the base of the wall in left-center field for the first out of the frame.
"I was trying to play the ball off the wall, and then, I see (Morgan) creeping toward it," Brantley told Sportstime Ohio. "I didn't think he had a chance, but it's an athletic play. It's a gifted play. It was huge for our team at that moment, saved a double and saved a big inning for us right off the bat. It's a great play. It's going to be on the Top 10. I can't wait to watch it again."
Morgan credited the catch to a call made by Indians bench coach Brad Mills before the at-bat.
"I was in the right position," Morgan said. "Millsie put us in the right position. I saw the pitch go over the plate and Pinto put a good swing on it, and I'm just there to do my job and just help out in any way I can.
"That was just a great play, and I was just trying to back up our starter who was throwing a heck of a game tonight."