CLEVELAND -- Mike Aviles watched the baseball drop into center field before thrusting his left arm into the air. When the Indians second baseman reached first, he removed his helmet, slammed it to the ground and disappeared into a mob of teammates.
For the first time this season, the Indians got to party on their field.
"We needed that," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Aviles' single off reliever Casey Fien in the ninth inning Wednesday night lifted Cleveland to a 4-3 walk-off win over the Twins at Progressive Field. Fireworks exploded over the stadium as the crowd roared and Cleveland's players stormed the field in celebration.
There have been plenty of ups and downs in the first six weeks of this season, making this kind of victory one that the Tribe savored. Right-hander Danny Salazar continued Cleveland's recent run of solid starting pitching, the Indians' defense played a critical role in keeping Minnesota at bay and the Tribe enjoyed its first walk-off win of 2014.
The players agreed with their manager.
The Indians needed that kind of win.
"Definitely," Tribe closer John Axford said. "We haven't had one of those moments yet, so it's great to have that, enjoy it, come together and everyone laugh, yell, scream, throw water, whatever it is that we do. It's fun to have those moments."
Salazar set the tone for Cleveland (15-19), which has enjoyed a recent surge from its starting staff.
The Indians' rotation has spun a 1.29 ERA over the past five games, including Salazar's 6 1/3-inning, seven-strikeout performance against the Twins. The righty surrendered only one run in his first six frames, but Francona pulled him from the game with runners on second and third base and one out in the seventh inning.
Tribe reliever Bryan Shaw surrendered a run-scoring single to pinch-hitter Danny Santana and then gave up a sacrifice fly to Brian Dozier, allowing Minnesota to pull the contest into a 3-3 tie. That effectively erased Cleveland's work against Twins starter Ricky Nolasco, who yielded a two-run double to Michael Brantley in the third and a solo homer to Yan Gomes in the fifth.
"They were making some hard outs," Francona said of the Twins. "We got a point where I thought Shaw could get them and would get them, and he didn't. That's on me."
Cleveland was fortunate that its defense kept Minnesota in check.
In the third inning, Indians center fielder Nyjer Morgan made a leaping, highlight reel catch to rob Josmil Pinto of extra bases. Morgan jumped and crashed into the wall in left-center, but landed on his feet with his glove raised high in the air. Salazar pointed at the center fielder, who strutted away from the wall, pointed back and flexed in the outfield.
Morgan said that was his alter ego, Tony Plush, making a brief appearance "for the kids."
"You didn't see nothin'. No, no," Morgan said with a laugh. "I was about to act out, but I had to stay humble. I had to stay within myself. My boy T. Plush was about to come back out from vacation on that one. It was a great play, just trying to back up Star, who was throwing a great game."
Tribe third baseman Carlos Santana also had a handful of gems in the field.
Santana made a barehanded grab-and-throw to steal a bunt single away from Dozier on the first pitch of the game. After striking out to end the third inning, Cleveland's third baseman opened the fourth by making a diving stop on a sharply hit ball off the bat of Chris Colabello, who was promptly thrown out at first.
"Santana, he was doing magic with the glove tonight," Salazar said.
In the top of the ninth, when Axford slipped into a situation with two outs and runners on first and second, Sam Fuld lofted a pitch high over foul territory down the third-base line. Santana glided to the wall, fought off a fan wearing a tie-dye shirt, and stumbled to the ground with the ball in his glove for a critical out.
"I was yelling from the mound actually, but I don't think he heard me," Axford said of the fan who nearly interfered on the play. "I was still yelling. I was yelling, 'Don't touch it!' I think I yelled it two or three times."
Aviles -- filling in for injured All-Star Jason Kipnis -- contributed a stellar defensive play of his own in the seventh inning.
After the Twins tied the game, Trevor Plouffe chopped a pitch from Shaw up the middle with two outs and runners on first and second base. The ball skipped off the mound, giving Aviles a window to make a diving stop. Aviles dove, corraled the ball, shuffled to his feet and hustled to step on second for the inning's final out.
The many outstanding plays overcame a throwing error from Gomes that helped pave the way for a run for the Twins in the third inning.
"Defensively, we did a lot of good things," Francona said.
It all set the stage for Aviles' heroics in the ninth inning.
Asdrubal Cabrera opened the final frame by slashing a pitch to deep left field for a leadoff double against Fien. Lonnie Chisenhall followed with a sacrifice bunt that allowed Cabrera to move within 90 feet of home plate. Two batters later, Aviles ripped a 1-1 offering from Fien up the middle for a no-doubt single that set off the fireworks.
"The way things have been going," Aviles said, "they haven't been going the way we planned. But, we know we have a good team. We know what we're capable of doing and I'm hoping that that win helps us out a little bit and gets us rolling in the right direction."