Torrential downpours were a mere minutes away. As Tuesday night’s game entered its 14th inning of play, the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals needed a hero.
That hero was Alcides Escobar, who popped a 398-foot home run to left field off Twins reliever Taylor Rogers to send home a smattering of remaining Royals fans happy as the clock neared midnight on Tuesday evening.
The loss was the Twins’ eighth walk-off defeat of the season.
Kyle Gibson and Danny Duffy were terrific on the night, but both offenses squandered opportunities to steal the game at various points, leaving each manager wondering about what might have been.
Here’s what we saw from our vantage point
Gibson was really, really good
He lowered his ERA nearly a half-run — 4.02 to 3.57 — with seven shutout innings, fanning eight batters, walking just one and allowing only five hits. Gibson retired eight of the first nine batters he faced before Jay’s bunt single in the third, and also faced the minimum in the fourth and seventh innings.
“(I) felt good out there,” Gibson said in his postgame chat. “(I) had both the slider and curveball going and threw a couple of changeups when I needed to. But it all really started with the fastball. I worked on a few things in the bullpen session in between starts in between pitch stuff and focus. It was fun out there tonight.”
Gibson did well to strand runners on base, as the Royals were a combined 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, including stranding two in the third and fifth innings and Mike Moustakas at third after a leadoff double in the sixth.
In all, Gibson threw 101 pitches and 65 strikes, with 15 swinging strikes on the evening. Brooks Baseball had 10 of the swinging strikes coming on sliders — a key theme noted in the pregame blog in this exact space! — with two more on the curve and one apiece on the four- and two-seam heaters and the changeup.
In all, it was a very complete effort from Gibson, who threw as high as 95.7 mph with his two-seamer and just a tick lower with his four.
Duffy was also fairly good
The Twins broke through for a run in the third inning, but otherwise, Duffy matched Gibson zero for zero the rest of the way. His command was a little iffy — four walks — but he allowed just one earned run with four hits and four strikeouts while going six innings.
Duffy had nine swinging strikes in his 108 pitches, and brought his season ERA down to a shockingly-high 5.71 with his sturdy performance.
That’s a surprising figure. Don’t be surprised if it’s half that by the end of the season.
Duffy had a weird vendetta with Eddie Rosario
This was an especially strange storyline for the entire night. In the third inning, Rosario poked a 1-2 fastball into left field for a single, loading the bases for Miguel Sano.
Sano promptly hit the first pitch he saw into left field for an RBI single, scoring Ehire Adrianza, who had been held at third base by Gene Glynn on the previous play. While Adrianza scored, Dozier was out and Rosario picked up third base.
So with two outs and Eduardo Escobar at the plate, Rosario decided to play a little cat-and-mouse with Duffy, bluffing an attempt at a steal of home which prompted the lefty to step off the rubber.
Eventually, Escobar struck out swinging — on three pitches — and Duffy shot a steely glare in Rosario’s direction as he stalked off the mound.
Fast forward to the fifth, and Rosario poked a single into right field. Jorge Soler appeared to have a little trouble coralling the ball, but not enough for Rosario to attempt to take second. However, he made that decision about halfway between bases.
As the rundown ensued, Duffy got into position backing up first base, then started shouting in Rosario’s direction once he was called out, prompting this reaction from Eddie:
Ultimately, it felt as though Rosario more or less blew it off and Duffy was really, really fired up about it. That feud didn’t get the Wrestlemania-style blowoff that it deserved, however, as Brian Flynn was on the mound when Rosario came back up in the eighth.
It’s probably nothing moving forward, but don’t forget that some of these things can fester under the surface for a long, long time.
Brian Dozier getting thrown out at home plate seemed to turn the tide
So let’s go back to this play for a second.
Adrianza opened the inning with a scorching single to left. Ryan LaMarre followed with a fly ball to left, then Dozier followed with a walk. Rosario poked his single to left, and Glynn held Adrianza at third though it seemed like there was a chance he might send him.
It was good he didn’t, because Alex Gordon has a phenomenal arm, and Adrianza would have been toast at the plate.
But fans didn’t have to wait long to see Gordon’s cannon in action, as on the next pitch, Sano poked a single through the 5.5-hole. Glynn sent Dozier sprinting around third — and despite his lagging sprint speeds from Statcast, he appeared to be moving quite well — but he was out by a fairly large margin at the plate.
Three pitches later, Escobar struck out swinging to end the threat.
But with the bases loaded and one out, the Twins came away with just one run, and didn’t score again after that. Sano’s single came on the 18th pitch of the inning, and the Twins had the chance to really get Duffy on the ropes by simply not forcing the plate at the plate.
Instead, Duffy wriggled out of that jam by throwing just three more pitches, and got in six innings total. It’s hard to identify these plays as turning points in the moment, but it’s pretty clear this was one.
Reed wriggled out of trouble, but he had an especially tough eighth inning
Let’s first preface this by saying that Reed has been terrific this year, and all the talk about the “Twins bullpen blowing it again” is super overblown.
Coming into this game, here’s how the bullpen had ranked in MLB in the month of May:
- ERA – fourth (2.84)
- K/9 – seventh (9.3)
- BB/9 – second (2.4)
The long and short of it is that the bullpen has done its job pretty much night in and night out, and the lagging offense is what makes this blip on the radar stand out so much.
Reed gave up a leadoff single to Jay — who is 6-for-10 in the series — and followed it up with a strikeout, another single and then hitting Salvador Perez with a pitch.
With the bases loaded, Reed couldn’t find the strike zone. He fell behind Soler 3-0, got a strike looking and another on a wild swing before the youngster took a walk to force in the tying run — one the Royals had been chasing all night.
Reed composed himself to get Hunter Dozier to fly to right and Alex Gordon to strike out swinging, but instead of a 1-0 lead heading into the top of the ninth, the Twins suddenly found themselves in a deadlock without much in the way of offense to show for the previous five innings.
The Twins did not make Jason Adam sweat enough in the 10th
Astute Twins fans will remember the name from the Josh Willingham trade, but Adam came into the game in the 10th and promptly threw 21 pitches — and just seven strikes.
Rosario hit a comebacker to Adam on a full-count pitch to open the inning. Sano followed with a first-pitch fly to center. After that, Escobar was hit by a pitch, Max Kepler and Robbie Grossman walked, but Byron Buxton — who had entered in the ninth as a pinch-runner — swung at a 1-0 fastball and lofted it to Gordon to end the threat.
What’s problematic about Buxton’s swing at that pitch is that it came after nine straight pitches out of the zone. One more walk forces in the go-ahead run, and instead Buxton — who is mired in what has to be a career-worst funk — decided to chance it by swinging at a fastball that, in his defense, was a strike but still not a pitch he was able to do any damage with.
The Twins really have to feel like he needs to get going — and soon.
Ned Yost had a wonderful quip about his team’s offense — or lack thereof
“No, I didn’t have any idea,” Yost said when asked if he was aware of the impending weather situation. “I heard somebody say if we don’t score in this inning, we’re going to be here until five in the morning.
“I thought they were talking about our offense,” he deadpanned.
The Royals wound up with an unlikely hero
Escobar came into the game with just one homer on the season, and was hitting a meager .228/.284/.302 to start the day.
But none of that mattered when he squared up a 3-1 fastball from Rogers and deposited it into the stands in left field.
The eighth walk-off loss in 50 games gives the Twins a share of a dubious record
Both the 1968 Pittsburgh Pirates and 2010 Seattle Mariners also suffered eight walk-off losses in their first 50 games. Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune dug up that stat, and for what it’s worth, those Pirates finished 80-82.
The 2010 Mariners, however? They were 61-101.
“We’re getting practice,” Molitor lamented when asked about the team’s penchant for walk-off losses. “It’s hard to explain. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many in a relatively short span.
“We kind of put ourselves in that situation by not scoring once again. We had all those opportunities and I don’t know how many innings we went hitless there at the end, so you hate to have it come down to one pitch and a homer like that. It’s the way you lost, but there are certainly a lot of things up to that point we could have done better to give ourselves a better chance.”
Gibson mentioned the number of one-run losses the team had in 2016, and how that has provided mental toughness as a lot of the key players this year are holdovers from that season.
“(It’s) a lot of the same guys,” Gibson said. “We’ve been through it before and we’ve got a lot of guys here who are fighting hard. I don’t think that’s going to define us at the end of the year, that’s for sure.”
Dozier loves Drew Butera
Rosario flared a foul ball that landed in the Twins dugout in the fifth inning. Butera raced over to try to catch the ball, and instead caught some feelings from Dozier.
The two were teammates on the 2012 Twins, as well as very briefly the next year before the Twins traded Butera to the Los Angeles Dodgers for lefty Miguel Sulbaran.
- Don’t be surprised if the Twins make a move for a fresh arm prior to Wednesday’s game. Molitor said he didn’t have anything to announce, but that the team was considering all of its options for Wednesday.
- The game was delayed 24 minutes by rain before starting.
- Rosario is hitting .361/.378/.630 in May.
- The Twins are just two walk-off losses from matching the 2004 team’s mark (10).
- The Twins fell to 35-62 against the Royals since 2013 — the worst record of an AL team against another over that stretch, according to the game notes.
- Jon Jay’s bunt single in the third inning extended his hitting streak to 11 games.