MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins gained ground in the chase for the second American League Wild Card spot for a second straight night, as Phil Hughes tossed five scoreless innings and Brian Dozier homered in a 4-2 win over the Indians on Wednesday at Target Field.
With their second straight victory over the Indians, the Twins (78-73) moved to within one game of the Astros (80-73) for the second AL Wild Card. It left Cleveland (74-76) 3 1/2 games back of Minnesota and 4 1/2 games behind Houston.
"We picked up a couple games in a couple days and we're even in the loss column so we're back to having a chance," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "Tomorrow we've got a chance to come out here and possibly finish off Cleveland before we head off on a tough road trip."
Hughes, making the start because lefty Tommy Milone was scratched with shoulder fatigue, was sharp, scattering four hits with four strikeouts. It was his second start since missing five weeks with a herniated disc in his lower back. Neal Cotts and Casey Fien combined for three scoreless innings in relief before Glen Perkins gave up a two-run homer to Carlos Santana with two outs in the ninth.
"Obviously the games are more magnified right now, but I think throughout the course of the year, every game you lose is frustrating," Kluber said. "I don't think it's any more or less frustrating when you lose a game in September or April. I think our goal is to win every night and when that doesn't happen, it's a bad feeling. It's not something you look forward to."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Four-run fourth propels Twins: Kluber cruised through the first three innings before running into trouble in the fourth. Dozier led off the frame with a blast to right for his 28th homer, his first career opposite-field shot. It sparked a rally with Mauer doubling and scoring on a double from Plouffe before Escobar came through a two-run single with two outs.
"Like [Tuesday] night, all our runs came in one inning," Molitor said. "Dozier shocked us a little bit going the other way. Joe had the double. Trevor talked about maybe bunting on his own, but I urged him to swing when it got 2-0 and on a 2-1 pitch, he put a good swing on a pitch. But the big hit was Escobar."
Kluber's outing cut short: Kluber's first outing since he was skipped for a few starts lasted just 61 pitches. His second lasted 72. The Indians' ace uncharacteristically ran into trouble against the Twins, giving up as many runs in his 3 2/3-innings outing as he had in his previous 26 innings against Minnesota.
"I just thought he made some mistakes up and we came probably within a pitch of getting out of the inning, but just threw a breaking ball up. Every time he got hurt, it just seemed like he elevated the ball," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "That's frustrating, I know, for him. He's two starts back now. My guess is each start he'll be sharper. We're just running out of starts." More >
Hughes comes up huge: After a shaky outing in his return from injury Sept. 15, Hughes was taken out of the rotation and wasn't supposed to start again this homestand and even pitched two innings in relief Saturday. But with Milone out, the Twins called on Hughes and he delivered, getting through five innings on 66 pitches.
"It means a lot," Hughes said. "This is the time of year where every good performance is magnified. It was nice to get this one and hopefully it puts me in a spot to help the team down the stretch." More >
Tribe offense quiet: The Indians came into Wednesday averaging 4.15 runs. But they haven't come anywhere close to that in the first two games in the series, scoring three runs in 18 innings. They managed just six hits Tuesday, and Wednesday, after the offense was dormant for nearly the entire game, the Indians finally broke through with two outs in the ninth.
"We pinched ourselves there and thought we were dreaming and I'm sure he did, too. But he's shown that power all year with 28 home runs, which is amazing for a second baseman. That home run was big and put us up, 1-0, and sparked that whole inning there." -- Plouffe, on Dozier's first career homer to right field
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With his double in the fourth, Mauer has reached safely in 42 straight games, which ties the Twins' franchise record set by Bob Allison in 1961. It's also the third-longest such streak this season behind St. Louis' Matt Holliday (45) and Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion (44).
After Perkins recorded the final out of the game on a pop fly from Yan Gomes, he was promptly tossed by home-plate umpire Dan Bellino after Perkins criticized his strike zone. Perkins was angry by a ball called by Bellino that would've struck out Chris Johnson. Molitor didn't see the ejection firsthand, but said he heard Perkins was thrown out.
"I think it was a little frustration," Molitor said. "I think he thought he had Johnson struck out and he let it kind of carry over."
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: Rookie righty Cody Anderson gets the ball for the Indians as they look to salvage Thursday's 8:10 p.m. ET series finale. Anderson, who is 5-3 with a 3.48 ERA, lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his only start against the Twins, giving up six runs.
Twins Righty Kyle Gibson is set to start the finale against the Indians on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. CT. Gibson has been solid, posting a 3.21 ERA in September after a 5.29 ERA in August.
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. Betsy Helfand is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.