We all know the rules of the game: three strikes, you’re out. And after the Cleveland Indians have fired three straight strikes at the Minnesota Twins, they’re out of first place for the first time in more than a month. In the nightcap of the twin bill on Saturday, it was death by solo home runs for the Twins, as four solo shots paved the way for a 6-2 loss amidst an increasingly wet night at Target Field.

If you want to know exactly how Saturday went for the Twins, consider this: they led for one-half of an inning. Total. The highlight of the day was signing the No. 1 draft pick to his contract in a press conference that took place between the two games.

As Brian Dozier said after the second game, “It was a frustrating day. Very frustrating…They beat us in every facet of the game.”

After the Twins offense went silent in the first game once starter Ryan Merritt departed, it was more of the same in the second game, as they pushed across just one run after starter Mike Clevinger departed — a solo home run from Dozier in the sixth inning off reliever Nick Goody.

Like Merritt before him, Clevinger lasted just four innings, but for different reasons. The nightcap was delayed 75 minutes by rain — long enough for each starter to be lifted. That meant that Clevinger didn’t figure in the decision, and Adalberto Mejia took the loss despite pitching a much better game than last time out against the Mariners.

That’s not necessarily saying much, as Mejia allowed eight earned runs and didn’t get out of the fourth inning when he faced the Mariners for the second time in less than a week. But Mejia got a reasonable eight swinging strikes in 85 pitches, fanned three batters, walked three and his two biggest mistakes were both solo home runs — to Austin Jackson and Lonnie Chisenhall in the span of three batters in the fourth.

After the rain subsided, Tyler Duffey came on for all the right reasons, but it just didn’t work out. When the game was suspended, Edwin Encarnacion was at the plate with a 1-0 count. Bringing in Duffey — the team’s top reliever this year, at least among those not named Brandon Kintzler — was a move to neutralize the middle of Cleveland’s order. Duffey got Encarnacion to strike out swinging on a knucklecurve that was so dastardly, the latter ended up accidentally throwing his bat beyond the pitcher’s mound, with Duffey deftly avoiding it as he walked off the field.

It was in Duffey’s second inning of the night where he ran into trouble. He got ahead of Carlos Santana 0-2 before losing him to a walk, and two batters later Jackson laid down a perfect bunt that Miguel Sano had no play on. With runners on first and second and one out and his team leading 2-1, Chisenhall stepped up to the plate. After taking two balls and fouling off a fastball, Chisenhall turned around a 79 mph knucklecurve from Duffey, driving it deep into the Minneapolis night for a three-run home run — his second of the night — which was ultimately the death blow for the Twins. Duffey’s frustration was visible, as he recorded the third out on a comeback off the bat of Daniel Robertson that he stabbed and fired over to first base, most likely much faster than the 82 mph the pitch was delivered at.

Before the two home runs in the fourth, the Twins took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third. Byron Buxton walked on five pitches and stole second base on the 1-0 pitch to Dozier. Buxton was initially ruled out on what was — even without the benefit of a second look — shaky call by second base umpire Mike Estabrook, and after a couple minutes under the hood, the call was reversed. Clevinger threw another ball to Dozier to run the count to 2-1, then threw errantly on a pickoff attempt to second which allowed Buxton to cruise into third base. Seven pitches later, Joe Mauer cracked a double to deep right-center, scoring Buxton to give the Twins their only lead of the day.

It lasted a total of eight pitches, with Jackson’s home run tying the score and Chisenhall’s seven pitches later giving the Indians a 2-1 lead they did not relinquish.

Twins reliever Alan Busenitz made his big-league debut after being added to the 40- and 25-man rosters between games, and pumped some pretty good heat mixed intermittently with sliders and curves. The 26-year-old righty pitched a clean seventh inning with a hit and a walk, but allowed a single run in the eighth when Francisco Lindor took him deep to right field. It was the culmination of a nine-pitch at-bat, as Lindor crushed a full-count slider well into the seats in right. Busenitz was 94-97 mph with his fastball on the night, and threw 13 straight fastballs before throwing the first breaking ball of his career.

All in all, giving up a home run to Mr. Lindor on the fourth slider he saw in a plate appearance is pretty defensible.

Notes

  • The loss dropped the Twins out of first place for the first time since May 10.
  • The Twins have lost seven straight games to Cleveland at Target Field and 11 of their lats 15.
  • The last Twins starter not named Santana-Berrios-Gibson to win a game was Mejia — back on May 21.
  • The Twins sent Alex Wimmers back to Triple-A Rochester after the game. He was required to go back by rule, since he had been sent down in the last 10 days.
  • Dozier’s 12th home run tied him with New York’s Starlin Castro for the most in baseball among second basemen, per team release.
  • Indians second baseman Jose Ramirez finished with five hits on the day: a single, two doubles and two home runs. He’s hitting .306/.361/.535 on the season.

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Brandon Warne covers the Twins for Cold Omaha, and has had his work featured in numerous places across the United States. Locally, Warne’s work has appeared at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1500 ESPN and Go96.3 for writing and audio, and he’s also had written work appear on Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and cited in the Los Angeles Times. Warne lives in the outer Twin Cities suburbs with his wife, Amanda. Listen to his Cold Omaha podcast Midwest Swing. Follow Brandon on Twitter @Brandon_Warne.

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