Twins

Walk-off Walk Sends Twins to Season-Worst 11 Games Under .500

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Blown chances crushed the Minnesota Twins in a 6-5 loss on Monday night against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Yet despite all the missteps, the Twins were in position to have Fernando Rodney close it out with a one-run lead in the ninth inning.

That’s where it got a bit squirrely, however.

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Three straight one-out singles evened the score before Rodney got a broken-bat groundout to end the ninth. The 10th was even wilder, as rookie Zack Littell went 0-2 on the only player in the building with less MLB experience than him — Brewers rookie Nate Orf, who was making his MLB debut — but plunked him with a curveball to lead off the inning.

The rest was history, as the Brewers followed with a single, walk, groundout and a walk-off walk to move one win shy of 50 for the season, while the Twins dropped to 35-46 and inched closer to irrelevance as the trade deadline draws ever closer.

The walk-off loss was the Twins’ ninth — an MLB-high mark.

Here’s what we saw from our vantage point

Kyle Gibson more or less cruised until the fifth inning

Gibson’s first inning was a little unusual, as he allowed a run after two hits to start the inning. However, he rebounded to get one of the strangest double plays you’ll ever see. To see it in a scoresheet, it’d be a 4-3-7-2, as Brian Dozier got the out at first base on a little looper to second off the bat of Travis Shaw. Joe Mauer attempted to throw out Jesus Aguilar, but the throw sailed into left field. When Aguilar attempted to stretch it all the way home, Eddie Rosario threw him out for the oddest double play in recent Twins memory.

Gibson had 1-2-3 innings in the second and fourth, and navigated a single and a walk sandwiched among a pair of strikeouts with a fly out in the third, but it was the fifth inning where he began to unravel.

Jul 2, 2018; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Minnesota Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson (44) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Gibson was handed a 5-1 lead going into the inning, yet immediately gave a run back on a home run to Manny Pina. After falling behind 2-0, Gibson executed a two-seam fastball down in the zone, but it was right where Pina expected it, as he drilled it into center to make it 5-2.

Keon Broxton followed with a double to left-center, and Eric Thames drilled a sizzling liner to short that Jorge Polanco — who was making his season debut after an 80-game suspension — managed to snare. Aguilar followed with a walk, but Gibson rebounded to fan Shaw looking with the bases loaded before things got weird again.

Ryan Braun hit a chopper to third that Willians Astudillo only needed to field cleanly and win a short race to the base ahead of Brad Miller to end the threat. Instead, Astudillo kicked it into foul territory, forcing Gibson to throw six more pitches to get Orf out to avoid further danger.

Molitor considered sending Gibson back out for the sixth — he’d thrown just 86 pitches — but opted to lift him for a pinch hitter with Max Kepler on first and two outs. Logan Morrison grounded to second, ending Gibson’s night with a 5-4 lead that held up until the ninth inning.

All told, Gibson threw 54 strikes, but allowed eight hits with two walks in five innings of work — a tightrope act that probably justified Molitor’s action to take him out despite having a short bullpen to work with.

“(I) executed quite a few pitches that inning,” Gibson said of the fifth. “Back to the last game as well. Felt I executed quite a bit and lost guys. Kind of the same thing tonight. They blooped in a couple and the high chopper from (Jonathan) Villar made it a tough play on Doz. Thought he was out on the replay but inconclusive or whatever it was. Then the Pina homer was splitting the bottom of the box. It was down and a pretty tough 2-0 pitch to hit and he put a pretty good swing on it. You’d like to limit the damage there to one and get out of there.”

The unlikely offensive hero was Robbie Grossman

Grossman’s fourth home run of the season turned a 1-1 game into a 5-1 lead for the Twins — though just like in the Cubs series, it was a short-lived lead. The grand slam was the first of his career, and it came with two outs in the top of the fifth inning with Brewers starter Brent Suter clearly on the ropes.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The mess started with Gibson singling into left — his second hit of the day. Mauer was robbed on a terrific play by Broxton in center, but then the Twins offense went to work with two outs. Rosario rolled an infield single to short where Miller had an inaccurate throw but it appeared Eddie might have beaten it anyway. He was really racing down the line. Dozier followed with a single through the 5.5-hole, and Gibson was held at third on a stop sign from Gene Glynn that might have been a green light if it was almost anyone but the pitcher.

Then Grossman did the thing, drilling the first pitch he saw from Suter — an 84 mph fastball — just over the fence in left-center to give the Twins a four-run lead.

Grossman is hitting just .238/.321/.352 on the season, but went 2-for-5 in this one while driving in four of the team’s five runs.  

The Twins didn’t help themselves on the bases or in the field

Astudillo not only had the error at third base, but he also was picked off first after singling with one out in the fourth as well. It appeared as though Suter may have balked on the throw — or at the very least, it was a really, really good move — and Astudillo froze just long enough for the lefty to get him for the third out.

In the ninth inning, Mauer rolled a routine grounder to short that Miller was unable to field cleanly. Escobar, who had reached second after a throwing error by Miller moved him up on a fielder’s choice, rounded third too aggressively and got into an inning-ending rundown that squelched the Twins’ last chance for an insurance run.

Jul 2, 2018; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Minnesota Twins pinch hitter Eduardo Escobar (5) is tagged out by Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw (21) after getting caught in a rundown during the ninth inning at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In all, it was an all-too-common refrain for a team that has made far too many outs on the bases this season.

The Brewers bullpen absolutely slammed the door

Suter got the gate after five innings of five-run ball, and the quartet of Taylor Williams, Dan Jennings, Jacob Barnes and Corey Knebel combined for five innings of shutout ball with just two hits allowed, four strikeouts and no walks.

In fact, the Brewers bullpen had nearly as many hits (one) as it allowed (two), as Williams hit for himself in the sixth inning and poked a single into right field.

In all, it was kind of a crazy night for pitchers hitting, as Gibson, Suter and Williams combined to go 4-for-4.

Littell was thrown to the wolves, but Molitor didn’t have much choice

With Matt Magill and Ryan Pressly unavailable, Molitor’s choices for the 10th inning were down to Matt Belisle — who had warmed in the fifth inning as Gibson struggled — and Littell, who was recalled earlier in the day to replace Adalberto Mejia’s spot on the pitching staff.

Molitor opted to save Belisle for if the Twins got a lead, and went with the guy who could give him length early on instead of vice versa.

Jul 2, 2018; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Minnesota Twins pitcher Zack Littell (52) throws a pitch during the tenth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It snowballed, and quickly, as Littell hit Orf with an 0-2 curve that he said backed up on him. Pina followed by taking eight pitches to hit a single, and Broxton walked after falling behind 0-2 in the count.

So Littell was 17 pitches into the inning and already had two 0-2 counts, yet all he had to show for it was the bases loaded and nobody out.

The Twins went to the five-man infield, and it paid immediate dividends as Hernan Perez hit for the pitcher’s spot and grounded to Polanco, whose throw made catcher Bobby Wilson do a Kent Hrbek couch-potato-play imitation — look it up, kids — to get the out at home.

The Twins opted to stay in the five-man infield formation with Miller at the plate and one out — perhaps a strange decision based on Miller’s 37 percent groundball rate this year — but it mattered very little as Littell missed with four straight pitches to give the Brewers the walk-off win, emphasis on the walk.

In baseball Twitter, it’s called “shrimp.”

Another pitcher is on the way

The Twins optioned out Littell after the game, and Molitor said one could deduce that meant another pitcher was on the way. Given the team’s need for length, it wouldn’t be surprising to see it be someone like Tyler Duffey, who last worked on Sunday — throwing 43 pitches against Lehigh Valley.

Notes

  • The Twins fell to 6-10 in interleague play and 1-6 on the current nine-game road trip. They’ve won just two of their last 11 games.
  • Gibson had two hits — the first multi-hit game since Tommy Milone did so on April 20, also in Milwaukee.
  • Mauer played in his 1,784th career game, passing Kirby Puckett for second on the team’s all-time list.
  • Grossman’s grand slam was the first for the Twins since Ehire Adrianza did so in Detroit on June 12.

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