Robbie Grossman’s swinging strikeout against Nick Goody to end the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader was the icing on a very frustrating cake for the Minnesota Twins. Not only did it cap a 9-3 loss to push the Twins back to .500, but also sealed a dubious team record as the 19th time a Twin had struck out against Indians pitching.

In fact, most of the game was emblematic of the Twins’ recent pursuit of the Indians in the standings. The Indians didn’t play particularly well all day, and let the Twins hang around almost all afternoon despite a litany of miscues. The Indians kept the Twins at arm’s length for the entire nine innings before busting loose for six runs over the final two innings to seal the deal and improve to 66-52 on the season.

The loss also dropped the Twins to 0-9 against the Indians at Target Field in 2017.

The trouble started — like it tends to — for the Twins and especially Kyle Gibson in the first inning. The tall righty allowed a pair of earned runs in the opening frame, but was lucky it wasn’t more as the Tribe loaded the bases with nobody out before settling for a two-run single from Jay Bruce and nothing else.

“They fouled off a lot of pitches,” Gibson said. “I think in that first inning, I was probably 1-2 on almost everybody. I didn’t have many first-pitch strikes, but I got to two strikes on a lot of those guys, but they hit some balls where guys weren’t, unfortunately.”

Gibson threw first-pitch strikes to just 7-of-22 batters, and saw his first-inning ERA rise to 5.90 for his career.

The Indians added another run in the second, but not before the Twins blew a bases-loaded situation of their own in the bottom half of the first. Brian Dozier walked on 10 pitches and moved to second on a Max Kepler single to left-center. Joe Mauer followed with a single to left, and the Twins had a chance with their cleanup hitter to do some damage much like the Indians had in their half of the inning.

But much like Edwin Encarnacion before him, Miguel Sano failed to take advantage, as he opened the strikeout party for Indians starter Carlos Carrasco by striking out on the ninth pitch he saw. In all, Carrasco fanned nine batters over his five innings of work — including five in a row between the third and fourth inning — before departing with a just a 3-1 lead.

That one run came via a Byron Buxton home run in the second inning — his seventh of the season.

Reliever Bryan Shaw got in on the fun for the Indians, as he recorded four of his five outs by strikeout. In fact, from the sixth inning on, 10 of the 12 outs the Twins made were via strikeouts. One of the other two was Mauer being thrown out at home on a curious play in the eighth, and the other was Brian Dozier grounding out to third in the seventh.  

The game stayed 3-1 until the bottom of the seventh, when Buxton walked on six pitches and came around to score on a Jorge Polanco triple into the corner in right. So fast is Buxton that he paused for an extended period between second and third to find the baseball, yet still scored easily. However, the next three outs were recorded in a row to strand Polanco at third, as Jason Castro struck out swinging, Dozier grounded to third with the infield in and Robbie Grossman pinch-hit for Max Kepler and struck out swinging on a changeup.

The floodgates broke loose for the Indians in the eighth inning. After Gibson departed with yet another short start — four innings for the sixth straight start from a Twins pitcher of five innings or less — Dillon Gee came in and did yeoman’s work out of the bullpen. When he handed the ball off to Buddy Boshers in the seventh, he’d tossed 2.2 shutout innings and lowered his season ERA to 3.16. Don’t be surprised if he starts one of the doubleheader games in Chicago on Monday.

Nevertheless, Boshers got retribution for walking Bruce two nights earlier by getting the lefty slugger to pop to short. That retribution was short-lived, as Boshers started the eighth with the switch-hitting Carlos Santana and lefty-masher Brandon Guyer due up. Both hitters did their part, as Santana roped a 2-0 pitch to left for a single — thanks to a well-played carom by Rosario — while Guyer golfed a double into the corner. Boshers was granted a momentary reprieve when Santana tried to score on a grounder to second with the infield in, but that was also short-lived as Ryan Pressly came on to allow a home run to Yan Gomes — on an 0-2 fastball, no less.

Pressly also gave up a home run to Jason Kipnis before getting Giovanny Urshela — who entered in the second when Gibson hit Jose Ramirez on the arm with a pitch — to fly to deep right to mercifully end the inning.

The bizarre play of the day came in the eighth inning with the Twins railing by five runs. Mauer roped a 1-1 changeup into the corner in left for a double off Tyler Olson. Zach McAllister entered and immediately walked Sano on five pitches. Rosario fell behind 0-2, then ran the count full before sending a moon shot to right-center.

What happened next is murky, so we’ll try to explain it the best we can. Due to the trajectory of the ball, Mauer went back to second to tag up. While that is possibly a viable idea for Mauer, Sano still has to be in the vicinity of second base. When the ball dropped, Mauer broke for third and Gene Glynn waved him home, while Sano waltzed into second but never got to third.

It’s possible that Sano didn’t want to run Mauer off third, but it didn’t appear that he picked up Glynn for any sort of sign whether he should come to third base. Rosario rounded first and broke for second, but scurried back when he saw the behemoth third baseman stationary on the bag. Meanwhile, the relay throw home nailed Mauer, leaving Rosario with just a single to show for a tremendous at-bat. Sano still managed to score on Eduardo Escobar’s double — snapping an 0-for-19 skid — but it was too little, too late for the Twins offense.

Again, it was emblematic for the kind of day the Twins had.

So too was the ninth inning, as Goody fanned the side in the ninth without breaking a sweat to seal the win for the Indians.

The top half of the ninth provided an emotional comeback, even if the results weren’t perfect. For the first time since April 10, 2016 in Kansas City, left-handed reliever Glen Perkins returned to a big-league mound. His first fastball came in at 92 mph on the gun and a few of his sliders showed some solid bite, but overall he recorded just one out before he was lifted for Alan Busenitz after a walk and two hit batters.

Still, getting back on the mound was a big step for Perkins, who has worked very hard to get back to the big leagues.

“It was a little more emotional than I thought,” Perkins told reporters after the game. “I let it get the best of me a little bit out there. Getting the first one out of the way and hopefully returning to a bit more of a normal routine will be good. But it was good to get back out there. Obviously it wasn’t the results I want, but I think the first step was getting back on the mound. …It felt like a major-league debut, but different.”  

If Glen Perkins was the feel-good story in the first game, one didn’t have to look far for one in the second, as the Twins won 4-2 thanks to a tremendous big-league debut from starter Aaron Slegers.

Slegers, a 24-year-old righty who played at Target Field with Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament in recent years, had his contract purchased by the Twins prior to Thursday’s game, and served as the 26th man. Though based on how he pitched on Thursday — as well as his 3.18 ERA at Rochester through 130.1 innings — that stay back in the minors may not be long.

Slegers pitched into the seventh inning, becoming the first Twins pitcher since Yohan Pino on June 19, 2014 to pitch into the seventh in their MLB debut. Slegers allowed two earned runs on two hits — including a home run to Jay Bruce in the fourth — with three strikeouts and a pair of walks.  

“It was much-needed,” Molitor said of Slegers’ performance. “For Aaron to come up here, given the circumstances, he did a nice job of trusting himself. He threw a lot of strikes. To go as long as he did and pitch as effectively as he did was a big boost for everybody. He earned a lot of respect from a lot of people in that clubhouse tonight.”

“It was surreal,” Slegers told Fox Sports North sideline reporter Marney Gellner on the field after the game. “I was just trying to focus on throwing strikes and attacking hitters early. Good things happened.” Slegers said his nerves were OK; they were the worst before the game, but once he threw strike one, it was just baseball.

Slegers exacted revenge on Bruce with a swinging strikeout in the seventh, but was lifted when Edwin Encarnacion followed with a single. Carlos Santana followed with a triple to right, scoring Encarnacion when it appeared Max Kepler lost his footing and allowed the ball to get past him into the corner.

Kepler got his revenge in the bottom half of the inning, however, as his solo home run to right gave the Twins the lead for good at 3-2. The Twins tacked on an insurance run for good measure as Eduardo Escobar doubled home Ehire Adrianza in the eighth, with Matt Belisle and Taylor Rogers tag-teaming the ninth. The former recorded his third save of the year.

Five straight Twins reached base in the third inning against Indians starter Ryan Merritt. Brian Dozier snapped a personal 0-for-12 skid with a single to lead off the inning, with Joe Mauer following with a single, Miguel Sano with a walk and then a single from Escobar. Eddie Rosario grounded into a 3-2-3 double play, and Max Kepler followed that up by pinch-hitting for Robbie Grossman and flying out to left.

Kepler entered for Grossman after the latter was injured in a collision with center fielder Byron Buxton in the second inning. X-rays later revealed a broken left thumb, and he’s headed to the disabled list. It sounds as though Mitch Garver will be the call-up in place of Grossman, as his college coach tweeted late Thursday night that the catcher was getting the call.

Notes and Quotes

  • The Twins swapped out lefty relievers between games, recalling Nik Turley and sending out Boshers. Boshers returns to Rochester with a big-league ERA of  
  • Former Twins infielder Pedro Florimon had his contract purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday.
  • Rosario pulled into a tie with Sano for the highest slugging percentage on the team (.504).
  • Zimmer snapped an 0-for-36 streak with a hit in the ninth inning of the first game.
  • Rosario extended his hitting streak to seven games with hits in both games. Buxton also is on a seven-game hitting streak.
  • Sano and Dozier were the only Twins to play the whole first game and not get a hit.
  • Twins 2013 first-round pick Kohl Stewart was promoted to Triple-A Rochester, and will start at Louisville on Friday night.
  • Perkins on his emotions as he ran in from the bullpen: “Running in, and I hear (team PA announcer) Adam Abrams saying ‘Welcome back to Target Field’ and the fans cheering in that manner in a game when we’re down four runs is special to me. Obviously everybody knows I’m from here, and I’m one of those people. So for them to cheer for me like that after everything I’ve gone through, it felt really good. I appreciate that more than anybody knows. I had a hard time running in today. But like I said, to get that first one and hopefully I can get a little more comfortable the next time out.”
  • Perkins on if his emotions surprised him: “Yeah, I didn’t know what to expect. I really didn’t have any expectations for anything about when and where I’d pitch or what I’d do when I was out there, but I knew I needed to get that first one out of the way. It’s an incredible feeling to be back out on that mound. I know everything that went into getting back out there. Regardless of the results, it was worth it.”
  • Perkins on if there were any days he doubted he’d ever get back: “There were a lot of those days. It’s all part of it. Hopefully I’m a mentally stronger person. I learned some things from that. It’s part of life and baseball and grinding and injuries and all those things. There’s a lot of self doubt that creeps in. When I ran out today, that’s why it was so emotional for me because I know all the people who have helped me get here physically and mentally, all those things. That was all part of me running out there today. I know that without the people I had supporting me, I wouldn’t be here today.”

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