Miscue in ninth looms large in Tribe's loss in extras

Ramirez mishandles grounder, allowing tying run to score against Allen

Miscue in ninth looms large in Tribe's loss in extras

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians were two outs away from a critical win in their ongoing attempt to defy the odds and reach the postseason. Closer Cody Allen created the ground ball necessary for a ninth-inning escape, but Cleveland's troublesome defense sunk the club again.

Indians shortstop Jose Ramirez -- reliable throughout his second-half stint up the middle -- bobbled a grounder off the bat of Aaron Hicks in the ninth inning on Friday, allowing a game-tying run to score rather than punctuating a win with a double play. The Twins went on to win it in the 10th inning, when Trevor Plouffe delivered a walk-off single off Josh Tomlin to send the Tribe to a 5-4 defeat.

Indians manager Terry Francona defended Ramirez's defensive effort in the wake of a tough loss for the ballclub.

"He had a shot, but that would've been a heck of a play," Francona said. "At that point, we're either looking for a strikeout or a ball hit hard enough where we can turn a double play, because Hicks can really run. He hit a bullet and I think most shortstops probably don't get to it."

Considering where Cleveland is currently positioned in the standings, and the consistency with which the club has engaged in close games, such a play loomed large.

"Everything is magnified right now," Indians starter Trevor Bauer said. "All these losses, they sting."

The defeat ended Cleveland's modest three-game winning streak and knocked the Indians six games back of the Tigers in the race for the American League Central. With the Royals' loss to Detroit, the Indians remained 4 1/2 games back of Kansas City for a spot in the AL Wild Card Game. The A's currently hold the other Wild Card spot while the Mariners and Yankees are also in the mix for a Wild Card berth.

On this night, the Twins played spoilers.

"It's not exactly where we want to be," Plouffe said. "We'd rather be on their side. We're just trying to play good baseball and not give up. This is a time for a lot of guys to show they can play in games like this against good teams late in the season."

The Indians' offense did enough against Twins righty Phil Hughes to put the Tribe in a position to seal a win in the ninth inning.

David Murphy, Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles came through with consecutive two-out hits off Hughes in the fourth inning to push the Indians to a 2-1 lead. In the sixth, Michael Brantley lifted a first-pitch fastball from Hughes deep to right field for a leadoff home run. The blast gave Cleveland a 3-2 lead and marked the 20th shot of the season for the Tribe's left fielder.

Only three American League hitters -- Jacoby Ellsbury (2011), Roberto Alomar (2001) and Darin Erstad (2000) -- have ended a season batting .320 or better with at least 20 homers, 20 stolen bases, 40 doubles and 95 RBIs. If Brantley can keep his bating average over .320 for the remainder of the season, he would join that impressive list.

"He's pretty special and he continues to be," Francona said of Brantley. "Whether he's in the batter's box, on the bases or in left field, and he has something to say about the outcome of a game, we feel pretty good about it."

In the seventh, catcher Roberto Perez doubled to right field and advanced to third base on an error, paving the way for a sacrifice fly off the bat of Michael Bourn that put the Indians ahead, 4-2. Hughes was on the hook for all four runs in his seven innings of work for Minnesota.

Bauer wound up with a no-decision for the Indians after being charged with three runs in six-plus innings. The right-hander allowed a pair of solo homers -- Oswaldo Arcia and Kennys Vargas launched a solo homer each in the third and fourth inning, respectively -- and ended the evening with six strikeouts against no walks for the Tribe.

Following Bauer's exit in the seventh, during which he allowed back-to-back singles to open the frame, lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski yielded a run-scoring single to Arcia to add another run on the starter's line. Cleveland cycled through five relievers to bridge the gap to the ninth inning, when Allen took over and quickly found himself in a one-out jam with runners on the corners.

Hicks then sent a sharply-hit grounder up the middle, where Ramirez hustled to his left, but had the ball skip off his glove for an ill-timed blunder. The young shortstop recovered in time to flip the ball to second baseman Mike Aviles for a forceout at second, but pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez scored from third to pull the game into a 4-4 deadlock.

"[Ramirez] got to it and he actually had the presence of mind to stay with it and get a force," Francona said. "It would've been a really good play."

With one out and the bases loaded in the 10th inning, Plouffe finished the comeback for the Twins.

The hill just became more steep for the Tribe.

"I don't think anybody is quitting," Francona said. "We have to show up and play every game like it's our last, and we do. Nobody's going to quit."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.