Sparks fly late as Guardians hold on for a 7-6 win, dropping Twins into third pace

MINNEAPOLIS — Friday’s showdown between the Guardians and Twins was delayed more than an hour by rain, but once things got underway there were fireworks early and drama late at Target Field.

Oscar Gonzalez smashed a pair of home runs in the first four innings and added two base hits, driving in a career-high five runs as Cleveland built a 7-0 lead. But Minnesota rallied to score six straight and cut its deficit to one on Carlos Correa’s two-run shot in the eighth against Guardians reliever James Karinchak.

Emmanuel Clase slammed the door in the ninth to preserve a 7-6 win for the Guardians, but not before Twins manager Rocco Baldelli called for home plate umpire Ted Barrett to perform an illegal substance check on Karinchak’s uniform and the hair on the back of his head.

Barret ran his fingers through Karinchak’s hair as the two stood in front of the mound in a bizarre scene between pitches of his at-bat against Luis Arraez.

Satisfied that Karinchak was pitching clean, Barrett allowed the at-bat to continue, resulting in an Arraez fly out to left. But Correa’s 19th home run followed, snapping Karinchak’s scoreless innings streak at 24 2/3. Karinchak, who heard accusations last season when Major League Baseball cracked down on the use of sticky substances by pitchers, said he was not surprised that Baldelli asked for the inspection.

“I knew people were obviously thinking I was cheating, but I had no worries because it was just sweat and rosin,” Karinchak said. “So, come check.”

Guardians manager Terry Francona said his staff has been very direct with Cleveland’s pitchers about what’s expected of them in terms of respecting MLB’s rules, and that he was confident there was no issue with Karinchak.

“No, I was just hoping it didn’t get in the way of him pitching, but we’ve checked everybody,” Francona said. “That’s the last thing we’d ever want to happen.”

Clase bounced back from a blown save earlier in the week, fanning Gary Sanchez and Jake Cave in the ninth to convert his 32nd in 35 chances and tie Chicago’s Liam Hendricks for the American League lead.

The win keeps Cleveland two games ahead of the White Sox in the AL Central Division and drops Minnesota into third place 2 1/2 games behind the Guardians.

Cleveland’s offense was the story in the early going. Josh Naylor went 3-for-4 while Amed Rosario and Austin Hedges added a pair of hits each. Hedges launched his seventh home run off Bundy in the fourth.

José Ramírez and Rosario singled with one out and Naylor’s RBI base hit gave the Guards a 1-0 lead in the first. Gonzalez stayed red-hot by capping a four-run inning with a three-run home run to the bleachers in left on a hanging curve from Bundy.

Gonzalez’s second shot, a two-run blast in the fourth, followed Naylor’s 20th double and gave the rookie seven home runs and 31 RBI in just his 65th career game. He entered play Friday having reached base safely in nine of his previous 18 plate appearances with three doubles in his last six games.

“I feel like I’m making a little more contact,” Gonzalez said through interpreter Agustin Rivero. “My routines and my work have been the same and now I’m getting the results. It’s just that I’m making more contact.”

Cal Quantrill (12-5, 3.50) took advantage of the early lead and struck out seven Twins batters in five innings before fading in the fifth after allowing two runs (one earned) on nine hits and a walk. The win was Quantrill’s eighth straight in his last 12 starts, matching Justin Verlander for the longest active winning streak by a pitcher in the majors.

Quantrill’s 8.81 runs of support on average over his previous 12 starts leads the AL and is second in baseball behind Atlanta’s Kyle Wright (9.38). He said afterwards the Twins did not hit the ball hard very often against him, but they hit it in the right spot.

“We stayed with the game plan, kept attacking, tried to get ahead in counts,” Quantrill said. “I didn’t throw the ball great today, but whatever. Just keep on them. They can only hit so many ground balls through the hole before we’re going to turn two.”

The Guardians got sloppy on defense, leading to an unearned run on Gonzalez’s throwing error in the sixth. Rosario and Andrés Giménez also botched a ground ball single up the middle by Gio Urshela in the fourth, missing a connection as Rosario tried to flip the ball to Giménez at the bag for a force out.

But Cleveland successfully challenged a call in the second when Gary Sanchez was ruled safe on a fielder’s choice by Gilberto Celestino that Quantrill nearly threw away. Quantrill’s throw skipped past Rosario’s glove and was grabbed by Giménez at second for a force out before Sanchez reached the bag.

Hedges turned in a fantastic catch on a Max Kepler foul pop in the eighth, making the grab before tumbling into the Twins dugout. Minnesota challenged that Hedges had gone out of play before the ball entered his glove, but Barrett’s ruling of an out was upheld.

“He really scraped up his arm,” Francona said. “That looked ugly when you think about somebody’s knee or their ankle. He’s kind of fearless, though. That’s kind of how you have to play the game. I respect that so much in him.”

Quantrill said Baldelli’s theatrics likely served to fire up Cleveland’s players in the field the most.

“My opinion is if you’re gonna call a delay of game, there has to be a repercussion if you’re not right,” Quantrill said. “It is what it is. He had the right to challenge it, so I guess he did. I’m glad that we came out on top.”

Next: The series continues Saturday with a 7:10 pm first pitch from Target Field. Cleveland will send right-hander Triston McKenzie (9-11, 3.18) to the mound while the Twins counter with righty Chris Archer (2-7, 4.47). FOX will broadcast the game, which will also air on WTAM 1100 AM, 100.7 FM and the Guardians Radio Network.

Guardians merchandise for sale: Here’s where you can order new Cleveland Guardians gear, including T-shirts, hats, jerseys, hoodies, and much more.

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