The Cleveland Guardians head into Sunday afternoon’s home game with the Minnesota Twins with a 4 1/2 game lead in the American League’s Central Division with just 17 games to go.

Cleveland’s dominance of the Twins is a big reason for that.

The Guardians (79-66) made it eight in a row over third-place Minnesota (72-73) with a doubleheader sweep on Saturday capped by a marathon 15-inning, five-hour, 24-minute 7-6 victory in the nightcap that ended in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Amed Rosario, who went 8-for-13 with six RBIs in the twinbill, hit a hard grounder with two outs in the 15th that shortstop Jermaine Palacios mishandled for an error to give the Guardians their ninth win in the past 10 games.

“That’s a long day,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said with a smile.

It was the second-longest game by innings since the introduction of the automatic runner at second to start extra innings. The longest was a 16-inning affair between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres on Aug. 25, 2021.

Rosario’s eight hits were the most by a Cleveland player in a doubleheader since Earl Averill had eight against the New York Yankees on May 7, 1933.

The loss could have been a backbreaker for Minnesota’s slim playoff hopes. The Twins head into Sunday’s contest seven games behind the Guardians with just 17 games remaining.

“What a hard game to lose but not a hard game to be a part of,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Because you walk out of that (and) you admire the will of your players, the desire, the refusal to stop playing the game with everything they have. Our guys gave it everything, left it all out there, and that’s what I asked them for.”

Minnesota will turn to right-hander Joe Ryan (11-8, 3.83 ERA) to try to rebound in the fourth game of the five-game series.

Ryan is 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four career starts against the Guardians. He comes in off a 6-3 victory over Kansas City on Tuesday that saw him lifted after throwing seven no-hit innings.

Cleveland will counter with right-hander Cody Morris (0-1, 2.79 ERA), who will be making his fourth major league start and first against the Twins. Morris last pitched on Tuesday in a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels when he went 3 2/3 innings and allowed one run on two hits. He walked five and struck out four.

Cleveland used nine pitchers in Saturday night’s nightcap, and Francona credited Kirk McCarty, who pitched the final three innings and allowed one unearned run on two hits, for his role in securing the victory.

“He saved our bacon,” Francona said. “He pitched, competed. It made a potentially really frustrating ending into a good night.”

The Twins, meanwhile, will try to bounce back a little over 12 hours after arguably the toughest loss of the season.

“It’s hard to swallow being at this point of the season and being this far out,” Baldelli admitted. “I know we’re going to go out there and continue to fight in every possible way from today until the last regular season game, and then we’ll see what happens.”

–Field Level Media