A tough two-out stretch in the top of the ninth inning with their closer on the mound doomed the Minnesota Twins to their sixth straight loss at Target Field on Tuesday night. After retiring Jonathan Schoop on a strikeout and Ryan Flaherty on a foul out, things went haywire for Twins closer Kevin Jepsen (2-4), who had entered with the game tied 3-3.
The Twins got a solid start from Jose Berrios in his third big league appearance — six strikeouts, one walk — but his pitch count added up quickly and a couple big home runs ultimately led to his exit after five frames. In the fifth, the Orioles got to him for back-to-back home runs from Manny Machado and Adam Jones — the latter going over the bullpen in left-center field and landing an estimated 443 feet from home plate — to give Baltimore a 3-1 lead.
The Twins struck first with a single run in the first inning after back-to-back singles from Eduardo Nunez and Brian Dozier and a sacrifice fly to deep center from Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe’s fly scored Nunez, who had aggressively taken third base on Dozier’s hit to left, as he took advantage of left-handed throwing left fielder Joey Rickard, who had to field the ball at a bit of an awkward angle which prevented him from having a chance to throw Nunez out.
The Twins clawed back in the sixth against Orioles starter Kevin Gausman, who racked up nine strikeouts in six innings of work. Dozier singled up the middle and Plouffe followed with a home run on a 2-1 pitch from Gausman — a hanging breaking ball — that knotted the game at three apiece. The home run was Plouffe’s third of the season.
But the Twins couldn’t get to the vaunted Orioles bullpen — which entered play Tuesday night tied for second in all of baseball with a 2.45 ERA — as Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Zach Britton (S, 3) combined for three shutout innings, allowing just one hit with three strikeouts and no walks.
It was a ninth to forget for Jepsen, who got the two quick outs before the Rule 5 rookie Rickard battled him for a double off the padding on the lower part of the left field wall. After Jepsen fell behind 2-0 to Machado with a pair of purpose pitches, the Twins opted to walk him and take their chances with Jones, who despite the mammoth blast in the fifth entered the game hitting just .200/.269/.274.
Jones made the Twins pay, though not until after a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position. With the go ahead runs in prime position, Jones crushed a line drive into left that Oswaldo Arcia couldn’t come up with, and instead made a late dive which ended up deflecting the ball to center fielder Danny Santana. The aesthetically awkward play held Jones to just a single, but the damage was done as the Orioles took a 5-3 lead.
Britton pitched a clean ninth for the save.