For five innings, neither team was able to break through. Then the cat-and-mouse game began.

BOX

The Boston Red Sox scored their first run in the top of the sixth; the Minnesota Twins answered with two.

The Red Sox evened things up in the eighth; the Twins broke through for four runs, and moved back within five games of .500 yet again with a 6-2 win at Target Field on Tuesday night.

Eduardo Escobar was the hero, as he made the most of his two hits — both doubles* — with three runs batted in and a run scored besides as he was kind of a one-man wrecking crew in the win.

Jose Berrios against Chris Sale was about as good as advertised, and the Twins’ offensive heroics late made for a festive night at the park in front of an announced crowd of over 28,000 fans.

Here’s what we saw from our vantage point:

Win probability graph (via Fangraphs)


Source: FanGraphs

There are no more superlatives for what Escobar has meant to the Twins

The final double of Escobar’s night — in the eighth inning — was initially ruled a single and an error, but that was later reversed after the game to put Escobar on pace for a 75-double season, which would easily be an MLB record. 

The current MLB record is 67 in a season in 1931 by Earl Webb, though for more recent numbers, Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies and Carlos Delgado of the Toronto Blue Jays had 59 and 57, respectively, in 2000.

Maybe the most impressive thing about Escobar’s season to this point — and he’s hitting .305/.355/.586 as of this writing — is what he’s doing on pitches he has no business hitting with authority.

His first double came in the sixth inning against Sale, a two-run poke to left field on an 82-mph slider down and out of the zone. Sale’s slider was absolutely dirty all game long, and this one came on the heels of two fastballs — one at 97 out of the zone and the next peeled foul at 95.

Here’s where the ball was that Escobar hit for the first double:

(image credit: Baseball Savant)

It’s the green ball, and as one can see, it’s easily well below the strike zone. “I stayed aggressive,” Escobar said after the game. “I stayed in the middle aggressive. He threw me a fastball up that I missed. He threw me a slider, a really good pitch. But it’s good. A double and it was important.”

Escobar and Sale were teammates briefly in High-A Winston-Salem back in 2010. Sale, the team’s first-round pick — No. 13 overall — was only in the minor leagues for a grand total of 14.1 innings before he was promoted to the big leagues and has never looked back.

They were also teammates in the big leagues for a short stretch in 2012.

So how’s this for contrast; in the eighth inning against Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly, Escobar powered a 98.5 mph fastball to left-center for another double, and took third when center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. made an awkward attempt for the ball, and it got by him.

Again, the green ball is what we’re working with here:

(image credit: Baseball Savant)

Escobar was a little less diplomatic in his remarks about Kelly. “He throws hard but his fastball is straight,” he said. “But it’s different with Sale. This guy throws 97 and everything is moving.”

It’s not hard to find people in the Twins clubhouse who think he should represent the team at the All-Star game next month — Trevor Hildenberger verbalized as much in his postgame remarks — and maybe it’ll help that he could qualify as a shortstop or a third baseman.

“He’s in a good space,” Hildenberger said. “I hope he makes the All-Star team. He should. So should Rosario and Berríos, too. They all put forth great performances today in a game we needed.” 

Escobar been absolutely incredible for the Twins this season, not only carrying the load for the suspended Jorge Polanco but also picking up some of the slack from Miguel Sano’s tough season.

Berrios was good, but not great

Berrios pitched into the seventh and departed after hitting Mookie Betts, but he had just one 1-2-3 inning and threw just 59 of his 101 pitches for strikes. That led to nine baserunners on the evening — three walks, five hits, one hit batter — and over 6.1 innings, that can pile up a bit.

Berrios stranded two runners in the first, one in the third, two in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth and left Betts on base for Hildenberger when he departed in the seventh.

Overall, Brooks Baseball had Berrios with 13 swinging strikes — nine on the two-seam fastball (23.7 percent whiff rate), three on the four-seamer (10.3 percent) and one on the curve (5.3 percent). While that’s an absurd rate on the two-seam fastball, it’s typically not ideal that Berrios isn’t getting much in the way of swings and misses on his offspeed and breaking stuff.

But it also shows maturation that he can pitch around that sort of thing — especially against such a good offense. Boston came into Tuesday night third in MLB in team wRC+ at 109.

“Yeah, it was great,” Berrios said after the game. “We knew we had to compete with them. They’re a very good team. I think we all played together as a team. Everybody gave their maximum effort. We played hard, and we got the victory.”

Jun 19, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios (17) returns to the dugout after pitching to the Boston Red Sox for six innings at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

“I think those are the little things we’re seeing,” manager Paul Molitor said of Berrios’ effort on a night where he had to work around some baserunners. “I’ve been really happy to see those areas of his game are where we’re seeing the step forward. That’s what separates the really good guys from the OK guys.”

Sale had an angry fastball and a filthy slider

“It was two pitchers going at pretty good,” Molitor said of his assessment between the two hurlers. “I think Sale was a little more efficient in the first half of the game. We didn’t generate anything. Just a swinging bunt.”

The fastball was as high as 99.4 mph on the four-seam side and a few ticks lower on the two-seamer, though his swing-and-miss stuff wasn’t perhaps up to par as one might expect. He got 10 swinging strikes on the evening — six on the four-seamer, two on each of the changeup and slider — but it was more looking strikes when he could locate the back-door slider that were particularly difficult.

He hit Joe Mauer with a back-door slider early in the game that absolutely froze him, with late break making it virtually impossible to do anything but maybe foul off.

The big breaking point for Sale came in the fifth inning when right fielder Taylor Motter took a 10-pitch walk. Sale came into the inning with just 43 pitches thrown through four, but was up to 67 after five and 91 after back-to-back 24-pitch innings in the fifth and sixth.

It’s not often that getting to a team’s bullpen is preferable in today’s game, but that was the case here.

Trevor Hildenberger showed serious guts against J.D. Martinez

Hildenberger has been terrific of late, and looks to be firmly in the mix for later innings with Molitor trying to back off the usage of Ryan Pressly and Addison Reed of late.

Hildenberger inherited Betts at first base, and didn’t do himself any favors by walking Andrew Benintendi to put runners on first and second with just one out. He got Xander Bogaerts to ground to third base, but it was softly enough that Escobar didn’t have a chance to try for a double play.

That left the Twins with Martinez coming up to the plate and first base open. Martinez, who had crushed fastballs for a lineout to left and a single to right in his previous two at-bats, seemed like a good candidate to be walked with the Twins hanging onto a tenuous lead and the go-ahead run in scoring position in Benintendi.

Zach Duke was warming in the bullpen and Alex Cora had lefty Mitch Moreland due up next, but Molitor rolled the dice with Hildenberger and it paid off.

(image credit: Baseball Savant)

The blue dot is the only slider he threw — a ball to even the count at 1-1 — but otherwise it was all changeups. There’s conventional baseball wisdom that says pitchers often don’t throw same-sided changeups and other adages that suggest pitchers don’t double up on offspeed, but Hildenberger decided to beat him with his best pitches.

The last one was the one on the left, nowhere near the strike zone, and in fact in right-handed batters box, yet inducing a sheepish swing from the Boston slugger.

“The first pitch was a changeup,” Hildenberger said. “I don’t remember what I threw next. The last pitch was a changeup. I had gone away, away, away with the first three pitches and I wanted something that looked like a strike and dove out of the zone below his barrel. I wasn’t going to go heater there because he has pretty good hands. I was going to go with my best pitch and try to get it below the zone.”

“We talked about whether we wanted to give Duke a shot at warming and have another baserunner,” Molitor said. “I just like the way Hildy is throwing. It might’ve been determined by ball one, strike one. We had some things going on in terms of how long we’d let that at-bat go. But when he got ahead, we went out there with a message to make your pitches. We got a chance here so don’t give in. And he was able to get the big strikeout.”

Cora’s use of Robby Scott make lots of sense to me

Cora brought Scott in to face 9-1-2 in the eighth inning, which was Ryan LaMarre, Mauer and Eddie Rosario. With LaMarre sporting a triple-slash line with each number under .300, Cora figured it wasn’t too much of a stretch to have Scott — making his first MLB appearance this year after he was swapped out for former Twins reliever Justin Haley earlier in the day — take down the No. 9 hitter, even as a righty, before attacking the lefties atop the order.

It didn’t work, but the process was right.

First of all, it’s possible to say Scott should have struck LaMarre out. ESPN has LaMarre walking on a borderline pitch with a few close ones throughout the plate appearance, while both Brooks and Baseball Savant say it was far less egregious.

But even still, having Scott face LaMarre instead of Joe Kelly with the game tied played right out of the hands of Molitor’s bench. In addition to backup catcher Bobby Wilson, Molitor only had two other moves on his bench — lefties Logan Morrison and Max Kepler.

By bringing in Scott — who has held lefties to a .138/.227/.295 line over his career but seen a .250/.338/.463 line against righties — Cora all but guaranteed that Molitor couldn’t use either of his bat-first subs at any point. With LaMarre batting ninth and from the right side, Molitor wasn’t about to lift him for a left-handed bat against those kinds of splits. And with the order turning over, Molitor isn’t pinch-hitting for any of those guys.

And it didn’t pan out. LaMarre walked, and eventually scored the go-ahead run on Escobar’s double. But I did like the process involved.

Beware of the gargoyle

Duke has purchased a pair of gargoyle-looking Halloween statues — this is the best example I could find — and had one set up near his locker with the other still in the box when the clubhouse opened on Tuesday.

He hasn’t named either of them yet, but the eyes light up an evil red, and the shoot smoke out of their mouths — like the one at his locker was doing when reporters were allowed into the clubhouse after the game.

It’s not a story at this point, but if the team starts winning…we’ll see, right?

Notes

  • Mauer was hit by two pitches in the same game for the first time in his MLB career.
  • The last Twins player to be hit twice in the same game was Danny Santana on Aug. 8, 2014 against the Padres.
  • The Twins are 10-6 in their last 16 games at Target Field and 18-17 overall.
  • Berrios has thrown at least six innings in his last seven starts — a career-best streak according to the game notes.
  • Robbie Grossman’s eighth-inning triple was his first since last Sept. 8 against the Royals.

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