MINNEAPOLIS — Aaron Slegers calmly took the mound for Minnesota in his major league debut and helped the Twins beat Cleveland at home for the first time all season.
Then the emotion came, when he left the field to a standing ovation in the seventh inning.
Max Kepler made up for a fielding flub in the top of the seventh with the go-ahead home run in the bottom of the inning, sending the Twins to a 4-2 victory in the second game to salvage a doubleheader split with the Indians on Thursday.
"I was about as close as you can cry without crying when I was walking off the mound there, when the crowd started standing up and applauding," Slegers said. "That was a pretty special moment."
Slegers sailed through 6 1/3 innings to stop Cleveland's six-game winning streak. The Indians had won 10 straight games in Minnesota, all but one this season.
"I'm not sure he knows all that's transpired between us and that particular team on this field here, but he did a nice job of trusting himself," Twins manager Paul Molitor said, adding: "It was just I think a big boost for everybody. He won a lot of respect from a lot of people in that clubhouse tonight."
Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis each homered and had three hits for the Indians in a 9-3 victory in the opener as the Twins set a franchise record with 19 strikeouts.
Slegers tried his best to keep the nerves at bay.
Recalled from Triple-A Rochester as the 26th player for the nightcap, Slegers allowed only two hits and two runs with two walks and two strikeouts. The 6-foot-10 right-hander lost the lead when he left a runner on with one out in the seventh and Carlos Santana greeted Trevor Hildenberger (2-1) with an RBI triple while Kepler slipped in the right-field corner trying to grab it.
But Kepler responded with his 15th homer, off Mike Clevinger (6-5) in a spot relief appearance, and Matt Belisle recorded the last two outs for his third save. The Twins stayed six games behind the Indians in the AL Central and one game out of the second wild card spot, with Kansas City also in the way in both races.
"You always feel good coming out on top in a series. But this is a tough one," Clevinger said.
Kepler predicted he'd go deep to teammate Byron Buxton.
"Right before that, we were talking and he was like, 'I'm going to get that one back. Watch,'" Buxton said. "Sure enough."
Jay Bruce homered with two outs in the fourth inning for Cleveland's first hit off Slegers, giving the veteran right fielder five extra-base hits and six RBIs in eight games since being acquired in a trade with the New York Mets.
Right-hander Ryan Merritt, the 26th player for the Indians who was summoned from Triple-A Columbus to start, hung in there until the fourth as the Twins built up their total of 13 men left on base.
But Buxton reached on an error on third baseman Giovanny Urshela, picked up his 21st steal in 22 attempts, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Ehire Adrianza's sacrifice fly for a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning.
Slegers, a true late bloomer who was limited by many injuries in high school and college , was a fifth-round draft pick by the Twins out of Indiana in 2013. He actually pitched at Target Field in the Big Ten tournament that year. His parents, grandparents and numerous other relatives, some of them Minnesota natives, were in attendance to watch.
"It's a little larger stage than the wild card race we have in Triple-A," Slegers said.
Consider Indians manager Terry Francona a fan, too.
"He pitched with a lot more maturity than you'd maybe think a kid making his first start," Francona said.
Indians starter Carlos Carrasco (12-5) allowed one run in five innings and escaped trouble with nine strikeouts. The Twins loaded the bases with no outs in the first, but Carrasco struck out the next two hitters.
"We'll take it because that had a chance to be a complete bullpen game," Francona said.
Kyle Gibson (6-10) allowed three runs and seven hits in four-plus innings for the Twins, the 15th time in 21 starts this season he didn't complete six innings.
Twins LHP Glen Perkins returned to major league action in the ninth inning of the first game after a 493-day absence since April 10, 2016. After recovering from a torn labrum, Perkins retired one of six batters. He allowed one walk, two singles and two hit by pitches for two runs.
THIS AND THAT
Indians CF Bradley Zimmer stopped an 0-for-36 slide with a single off Perkins in the second game. ... Buxton, who homered in the first game, is batting .341 in 82 at-bats since July 1.
Indians: All-Star 3B Jose Ramirez left the first game in the second inning after becoming the first of four Indians batters hit by a pitch, but X-rays on his right forearm were negative. "It hurt really bad, and I thought that I broke it. But I'm fine, thank God," Ramirez said through a translator. He sat out the second game.
Twins: RF Robbie Grossman broke his left thumb, following a collision with Buxton's forearm in CF during a flyout in the second inning of the second game. He was replaced by Kepler in the third. Buxton said neither he nor Grossman heard the other calling. Molitor said Grossman will miss at least three weeks.
Indians: RHP Corey Kluber (11-3, 2.71 ERA) pitches Friday in Kansas City. RHP Ian Kennedy (4-8, 4.80 ERA) starts for the Royals.
Twins: RHP Ervin Santana (12-7, 3.28 ERA) takes the mound Friday against Arizona. RHP Zack Godley (5-5, 2.95 ERA) pitches for the Diamondbacks.
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