CLEVELAND — The comeback’s complete. Four months later, the Indians are again atop the AL Central.
Carlos Santana homered leading off the ninth inning as Cleveland continued its stunning climb with a 6-5 win over the fast-fading Boston Red Sox on Monday night, moving the Indians into sole possession of first place for the first time since April 19.
After the Red Sox tied it in the top of the inning off closer Brad Hand, Santana, who hit a grand slam in the 10th to beat Minnesota on Sunday, connected on a 2-2 pitch from Marcus Walden (7-2). Santana’s shot barely cleared the wall in left to give the Indians their biggest win in a season that seemingly grows more special every day.
“Right when you get punched in the stomach he takes a swing like that,” Francona said of Santana, who connected for his 200th homer with Cleveland. “That was a gorgeous swing. I know the last two days, but he’s been doing it all year.”
Santana, who has had a storybook return to Cleveland after playing in Philadelphia last season, circled the bases and was mobbed at home by his overjoyed teammates, who trailed the idle Minnesota Twins by 11 ½ games but have gone an MLB-best 43-17 since June 4.
“Nobody threw in the towel,” said Hand, who blew his second save in two days but got bailed out again by Santana. “Nobody gave up and we all battled together.”
José Ramírez hit a three-run homer and Franmil Reyes had a two-run shot as the Indians moved 25 games over .500 with their sixth walk-off win.
It’s been an uphill battle for months, but the Indians are finally in front — and hope to stay there.
“Playing these type of high-energy atmosphere games, it’s amazing,” said Indians rookie starter Zach Plesac. “I feel the chemistry we have is special. Everyone feels it. It’s been so much fun, this whole ride, this whole year coming back and battling up to first place. We have something great going.”
Down 5-1 after three innings, the Red Sox chipped away and finally tied it in the ninth on a two-out double by Xander Bogaerts off Hand (6-3). The left-hander gave up a one-out walk and struck out Rafael Devers before Bogaerts doubled off the right-field wall.
“It was joyful for a quick five minutes,” Bogaerts said. “It’s rough.”
An All-Star, Hand has not had his usual command in his last few outings.
“I just can’t make the big pitch to get out of it,” Hand said. “I had a chance yesterday to get out of some stuff — two outs, runner on first today, but I just can’t make that pitch to get the job done right now.”
J.D. Martinez and Jackie Bradley Jr. homered, but Boston lost for the 12th time in 15 games.
The defending World Series champions are quickly vanishing from the playoff picture as well. They came in trailing the New York Yankees by 16 games in the AL East and 7 ½ back in the wild-card race.
“It’s not easy. You fight, fight, fight and in one swing, it’s over,” Red Sox manager Joey Cora said.
The Indians were without slugger Yasiel Puig, who pulled the appeal of his three-game suspension for his involvement in the July 30 brawl with Pittsburgh while he was with Cincinnati.
So Reyes took Puig’s cleanup spot and promptly hit a two-run homer — his first with the Indians.
After Santana drew a two-out walk, Reyes, who came in batting just .111 (4 of 36) since coming to Cleveland from San Diego, drove an 0-1 pitch into the bullpens in right-center.
Santana is the first Cleveland player to hit a game-winning homer in the ninth or later in consecutive games since Hall of Famer Jim Thome and Albert Belle each did it in 1995.
Indians reliever Hunter Wood was replaced in the sixth after taking a comebacker off his right calf. It was his birthday.
“He’s going to be OK,” said Francona, who tied Tris Speaker for third on the Indians’ career wins list with 617. “It hit him in the calf and he got tight real quick. I’m actually glad we took him out because by the time he got to the dugout he was pretty sore.”
Red Sox: LHP David Price, out with a cyst in his left wrist, played catch at Fenway Park on Monday. The five-time All-Star had a cortisone injection last week after being placed on the injured list.
Indians: Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber will start for Double-A Akron on Tuesday as he nears his return from a broken right arm. Kluber, who pitched three innings last week at Triple-A Columbus, is scheduled to throw roughly 65 pitches. He’s been out since May 1, when he was nailed by a line drive in Miami.