There were two out in the fourth inning, and the Oakland A’s led, 1-0.
Minnesota Twins rookie left-hander Stephen Gonsalves was chugging along in a significantly better second start than his debut — though certainly, still far from perfect — when A’s center fielder Ramon Laureano drew a five-pitch walk to put runners at first and second base.
In a way, Gonsalves was fortunate to even be in this position.
After striking out Stephen Piscotty to open the inning, Chad Pinder singled to left and Mark Canha followed with a single to right. Instead of pulling up at second, Pinder tried to take third. It was such a poor decision that Twins right fielder Jake Cave double-clutched and still threw Pinder out by a good 10 feet.
So when Laureano walked to bring Jonathan Lucroy to the plate, oddly the cards still seemed in favor of Gonsalves. Pitching coach Garvin Alston trotted out to the mound, and gave his starter two choices.
“Garvin came out and said ‘Hey, he’s swinging 0-0. So what do you want to throw — a changeup or a fastball?’” Gonsalves said during his postgame media session. “I was locating my changeup pretty well the first couple innings, so I said let’s throw a changeup and hopefully we’d get him to pop out.”
However, the changeup was center cut and Lucroy — the No. 9 hitter for the A’s, who came in hitting just .244/.299/.324 on the year — got all of it, depositing it off the facing between the first and second decks in left field.
“It was the only changeup that cut on me,” Gonsalves lamented. “Unfortunately, it came back over the plate and caught his barrel.”
Gonsalves recovered to get the last out of the fourth inning and ultimately completed five, but Lucroy’s home run was the knockout shot in a 6-2 loss at Target Field on Saturday night.
Gonsalves said he felt better than his first start — including way, way fewer nerves — but he did have trouble locating some of his secondary pitches, and that made for a difficult evening.
“Yeah, I definitely felt a little more comfortable,” Gonsalves said. “The nerves were, you know, gone. I was looking forward to keeping going and building up from the first start and I think we did that. We got through five, and my changeup was there for the most part. Unfortunately, a lot of my other pitches weren’t there.
“I think I did well. (It was just) one pitch; kinda cut that changeup into Lucroy. We knew he was swinging 0-0; I just missed my spot.”
Lucroy was Gonsalves’ kryptonite all evening long, as it was his single that fired the first salvo and gave the A’s a 1-0 lead in the second inning. After Laureano came back from 0-2 to take a seven-pitch, two-out walk, Lucroy singled to left to bring home Pinder for the game’s first run.
And therein lies the main difference between the minors and the majors — something Gonsalves has seen plenty of through his first two starts. After going up 0-2 on a No. 8 hitter, he started picking at the zone in an attempt to strike him out, and instead ended up issuing the free pass which led to a run.
This isn’t lost on Gonsalves, either.
“They’re a great team,” Gonsalves said. “I did battle. I felt good. The four walks, that’s tough to handle. One of the walks — my first one — I was OK with. It was a 3-2 changeup down in the count against (Matt) Chapman. He’s doing pretty well this year. I had two other walks where I was actually ahead of the hitters 1-2, 0-2 and I was kind of nibbling, wanting those strikeouts.
“I just have to trust myself. I know my stuff can play up here. It’s just a little block right now. Just trusting your stuff and being able to throw it over the plate.”
The Twins didn’t go down without a fight, either.
After the A’s pushed across three runs in the top half of the fourth, Miguel Sano answered with the longest home run at Target Field this season — a 455-foot shot to the third deck in left field off Oakland starter Mike Fiers.
On a night where the Twins honored Jim Thome’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this summer, that type of home run was all too fitting.
“I didn’t lose that fact that honoring Jim the way we did and then having the mammoth blast from Miggy,” Molitor said. “It was a good at-bat too. He had gotten him out on a 3-1 changeup the first time, and it looked like he had him set up for maybe the fastball after showing him a couple more offspeed pitches in that particular at-bat. Yeah, he quick snatched it and it kind of went to a place where not many men can go, as they say.”
Fiers, who came over to the A’s from the Tigers in a trade earlier this month, has struggled most with allowing homers so far in his career.
The Twins added another run in the seventh inning, as Tyler Austin muscled a Lou Trivino cutter just over the flower pots in the right-field stands for his 12th homer of the year — and fourth since joining the club.
After Austin’s homer, Willians Astudillo was hit by a pitch and Joe Mauer followed with a single to left off lefty specialist Ryan Buchter. But Logan Forsythe followed that up with a swinging strikeout, and Eddie Rosario — who had three fairly ugly swinging strikeouts earlier in the game — hacked at the first pitch he saw from Jeurys Familia, flying out to the warning track in left field.
Instead of giving the Twins a 5-4 lead, it was just another near-miss.
“I hit it hard,” Rosario said. “I made good contact with a good swing. He throws hard — 98 (mph). I thought it was out maybe.”
“It sounded pretty good,” Molitor said. “The opposite field here is always real challenging for the left-handed hitters. There was one that was not hit particularly well tonight, I think it was Lowrie off Gonsalves, that carried farther than I thought it would. And then Semien hit one that had a loud crack to it and it kind of died out there, so I really wasn’t sure how it was going to go.
“But you’re just hoping. When he went back on the ball, I thought it had a chance, but then you could see him gauge a little bit.”
That was all for the Twins, and the A’s tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the eighth off Gabriel Moya, though part of it could be blamed on his defense as well. Matt Olson drove a two-out double to deep center where it appeared Max Kepler shied away from contact with the wall, which allowed Pinder to score.
Laureano followed that up three pitches later with a double of his own, coming on an ‘excuse-me’ swing that allowed him to sneak the ball between Mauer and the right-field line.
It had a hit probability of just 11 percent, according to StatCast.
- Astudillo made his first MLB start at catcher, and graded out fairly well, Molitor said. “I thought it was pretty good,” Molitor said. “Trying to watch it, at the same time keep an eye on the defense and your pitcher, I didn’t feel like really we missed a lot of pitches or blocks, anything like that. He was mindful, he was checking in between innings, making sure he was on page with the plan and the upcoming hitters. He got through it fairly well.”
- The Twins fell to 39-28 at home with the loss, and 20-8 over their last 28 games there.
- The Twins are 8-14 against the AL West this season, and 12-11 in August.
- The A’s improved to 55-0 when leading after seven innings this season, and are the only team in baseball to not lose a game in that category all year.
- Lucroy’s home run was the 13,000th in franchise history.