The mark of a good team is winning the games it’s supposed to win.
But another hallmark of a good team is winning some games it has no business doing — like the Minnesota Twins nearly did on Tuesday night in a 6-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Target Field.
The Twins led 1-0, then fell behind 4-1 and 6-4 before ultimately coming up just short of tying the game in the ninth inning against Blue Jays closer Ken Giles.
The offense, on the whole, had a sluggish night and still scored five runs — indicative of the talent in this bunch — and Marwin Gonzalez was the only Twins player with multiple hits, including a booming home run in the ninth inning off Giles, his former teammate in Houston.
Gonzalez is off to a slow start, so if any Twins regular needed to get things going, it was the right time for it to be him.
But the Twins came up a whisker short, and fell by a single run to fall to 8-6 on the season — a second loss in a row to a Blue Jays team that’s still just 7-11 on the season.
Here’s what I saw:
The turning point
It appeared Kyle Gibson hit a wall in the sixth inning, as the tall righty allowed a single, double, walk and a single to four of the five hitters he faced in the frame before he was lifted for Ryne Harper with two on and a 2-1 deficit after allowing the go-ahead runs.
Gibson didn’t feel the same — he felt like his execution was still fairly good, and more on that in a bit — but everything just sort of conspired to help the Blue Jays take the lead for the first of two times on the night.
Danny Jansen opened the inning with a single to left, and moved to third when Eric Sogard doubled to deep right. Freddy Galvis struck out swinging, but Randal Grichuk worked a walk and Justin Smoak singled to center, scoring Jansen and Sogard to allow Toronto to take the lead and send Gibson to the showers.
Harper came in and got Teoscar Hernandez to fly to center, but Rowdy Tellez and Alen Hanson followed with RBI singles to push the lead to 4-1 and close the book on Gibson before Socrates Brito flew to center for the final out.
After the Twins tied the game on a three-run homer from Eddie Rosario, Toronto retook the lead for good in the seventh off Trevor May. The players were largely the same for the Blue Jays this time around, though Jansen struck out swinging before Sogard singled to right.
Galvis grounded to short but stayed out of the double play because of the shift, with Grichuk walking again and Sogard waltzing over to third without a throw when he saw some vulnerability with how Gonzalez was positioned between second and third base, leaving the base there for the taking. All would have been forgiven if May was able to work out of the jam, but he walked Smoak and then Trevor Hildenberger came on and gave up a single to Hernandez — which resulted in Smoak getting thrown out at third to end the inning.
Grichuk and Sogard scored on that single, giving the Jays their fifth and sixth runs, with the last one being the game-winning one.
Gibson was good until the sixth, and even then still was executing
After Sogard opened the game with a single, Gibson didn’t give up another hit until Jansen’s single to open the sixth. In fact, Gibson and catcher Jason Castro were rolling so smoothly, they didn’t even turn to the pitcher’s big strikeout pitch — the slider — until the fifth, when he used it to get Tellez and Brito both swinging.
“I felt really good; the stuff was really good,” Gibson said. “I didn’t throw a slider until the fifth inning. Castro and I had a really good mix going on. Mainly fastball-curveball. When we started incorporating the slider in the fifth felt like a really good adjustment. The stuff still felt really good.”
But even in the troublesome sixth, Gibson didn’t feel anything changed from his point of view.
“Honestly nothing,” he said. “I went back and looked at all the pitches, and the one I really didn’t execute was the one to Sogard that he hit a double on. Jansen did a good job hitting a pitcher’s pitch on 1-1. I pitched Freddy exactly how I wanted to.
“I had a really good battle with Randal. In that situation, the ones that are down and away, I’m trying not to give him too good of a sinker to where he can shoot it to the right side because we’re shifted to pull there. Then I made a couple of good sliders that he fouled off. Then the sinker, I thought for sure he was swinging, and he took a really good pitch. But the same thing in that situation, you’re not giving him a pitch too much in the zone. A groundball there up the middle and the run scores. I’d rather have him swing and miss at my pitch.
“On the mound visit, Wes came out and I told him we were going to go heater in and sinker away for the double play and unfortunately it was just hit on the wrong side of second base.”
Gibson didn’t induce as many swinging strikes (six) as one might like on 94 pitches, but he threw just 13 sliders with three of the whiffs coming on those. Gibson averaged 93.6 mph on his four-seam fastball and just a few ticks (93.3) lower on his two-seamer, and was still true to his bread-and-butter of inducing seven grounders against just four balls hit in the air.
That’s still a recipe for success more often than not.
The bullpen again unraveled
A night after things got away from Adalberto Mejia, it happened again to a more prominent player in the Twins bullpen — Mr. May.
“You’ve got to put guys away,” May said. “(I) wasn’t trying to give anybody a pitch in the zone to hit. There were a couple of close pitches, a couple of pitches that were missed. But none of them were in 0-2 counts or it would have ended the at-bat. I just got a little predictable. I didn’t use the changeup at all today. I didn’t use the slider at all today. I was a two-pitch pitcher. They put together some really good at-bats and that’s really all it is.”
May, who is one of the more cerebral and thoughtful players on the team, offered an in-depth diagnosis of how his night went, and rather than chop it up, it just makes more sense to share it:
“I was OK with the (Sogard) single at the time and then I had two guys battle me. I mean, two guys battled me for 15 pitches and they got walks out of it. Either one of those guys gets out earlier in the count we’re not talking about it right now. Then it looks even worse when they end up scoring. That’s one of those days where I’m seeing the ball come out of my hand better and better and better every time I take it.
“I just can’t get into pattern modes. I’m a guy with four good pitches and in order to get guys off the mid-to-high-90s fastball, you’ve got to use other stuff. Get guys to chase curveballs out of the zone you’ve got to locate other pitches. If I can go back I would do that. It wasn’t a loss of command.
“I wanted them to be closer than they were but for the most part when I did get ahead of guys it was exactly where I wanted to throw the ball. I knew it was in there. It’s very frustrating because you know how fine the line is between something like that and something like a 1-2-3 inning.”
Ultimately, it all led to the following conclusion:
“It comes down to them doing a good job and a little bit of luck and I haven’t had much of that the last three days.”
Baseball is a really humbling game, so if a pitcher with a 96 mph fastball can feel this way — anyone can.
This offense is never out of a game
This was also true in the ninth inning when the Twins ran out Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and before that Mitch Garver as pinch hitters, but with Toronto’s Aaron Sanchez typically scattershot with his command — four walks on the night and a K/BB ratio of 21-13 and an AL-leading three wild pitches — it had to be clear Minnesota wasn’t out of it even with a 4-1 deficit.
In fact, and forgive the self-indulgence, I even tweeted as much.
Sanchez has trouble with command. This one isn't over.
— Brandon Warne (@Brandon_Warne) April 17, 2019
That’s no grand proclamation, but after Max Kepler took a free pass and Jorge Polanco walked to get on base for what felt like the 10th time in a row, Eddie Rosario stepped to the plate and took a ball before pasting a 1-0 two-seamer deep into the Minneapolis night to tie the game at 4-4.
“He just had two walks,” Rosario said. “I know the guy was trying to throw a strike. He threw me the first fastball. I said, 1-0, it’s my count now. I wanted to hit it hard, hitting a good fastball up. It was beautiful.”
Even after two more runs scored to put the Twins back in the hole, Rosario said the team was still fired up about their chances to get it back to even.
Cron echoed those sentiments as well.
“For sure,” Cron said. “The lineup we have, one through nine, I’d put it up against most teams in this league. We know we can score runs. I know we will. I think it’s just a matter of time.”
The game ended on a play that probably shouldn’t have happened
Cron again wound up part of a strange play near the end of the game, as Byron Buxton cracked a double into the left-field corner. Cron rounded third and was waved home by third-base coach Tony Diaz, but Toronto’s relay of Hernandez to Galvis to home was right on the nose and the hustling first baseman was out by a fairly large margin.
From a personal point of view, a play set up like that should have been a hold at third unless Cron represented the go-ahead — or in this case, game-winning — run. With the top of the order coming up and the team teeing off on Giles, it just made more sense to make them pitch to Kepler (.259/.333/.463) or even Polanco (.415/.467/.755) rather than stretching Cron, who is not the fleetest afoot.
In fact, however, Cron did beat out the back end of a relay throw earlier in the inning to avoid hitting into a double play, but in doing so erased Jonathan Schoop — ironically enough, a pinch runner — from the bases.
Sometimes it just goes that way.
For what it’s worth, Baldelli had no issues with how the situation was handled.
“I thought it was a really good send by Tony and we’re going to take that chance every time,” he said. “Cronie, he was hauling. He gave us an opportunity to send him and they made a good relay and ultimately a good throw to the plate and got us. It was a well-executed play and I think the right move on our part, too.”
Tyler Duffey looked great in his return to the big leagues
Duffey was back in the big leagues for the first time since posting a 7.20 ERA in sporadic usage last season, and looked really strong in his two innings of work, allowing just a pair of baserunners while fanning three of the eight batters he faced.
“First of all, he came up and did a really nice job for us,” Baldelli said. “He executed well. He threw his fastball up in the zone. He spins the ball exceptionally well. He has big-league breaking pitches at his disposal. With guys coming up and throwing multiple innings, we never know — I can’t speak to what’s going to happen in the future, but I can say he did a heck of a job and he’s someone we’re going to look to going forward based on what we saw.”
In just 33 pitches, Duffey induced a stellar six swinging strikes — four on the knucklecurve and two on the four-seam fastball. He also touched 95 mph with both his two- and four-seam fastballs and sat 93-94, and based on his pregame comments appears likely to work up in the zone with the fastball to help create a tunneling effect with his curveball down.
Notes & Quotes
- This marked the first time the Twins had lost consecutive games to the Blue Jays since April 30-May 1 last season.
- The Twins are just 22-41 against Toronto in the Target Field era.
- Kepler’s on-base streak was extended to 11 games.
- Polanco has hit safely in 11 of his 14 games this season.
- Gonzalez’s homer in the ninth was his first as a Twin, and was estimated at 440 feet to center field.
- Baldelli on Gonzalez’s home run: “That’s a great sign from him. He’s had some good at-bats. He hasn’t had maybe some balls fall. Sometimes early on in the year, things like happen. He’s a quality major-league hitter. That ball was well struck. I think it’s a good sign.”
- Baldelli on challenging the game’s final play: “We had the opportunity to check that. We have a chance to — sometimes things happen on plays that the eye might tell you it’s an obvious call but truthfully I’ve seen some crazy things happen when you actually slow it down so it’s worth checking on our end either way and I think it’s worth checking to see if the interpretation was if Jansen blocked the plate as well and that’s a call that if he’s out, I mean it’s hard to truly complain about the blocking of the plate because that’s the perspective of whoever’s watching up top and that’s a tough one to hope for but I thought there was at least a chance that that could be the call, too, so it’s always worth seeing what they say.”
- Cron on if aggression is the team’s general mindset: “I don’t know if it’s necessarily a mindset. I think it’s the group of guys we have. The first thing Rocco told us when we met in spring is, ‘Don’t change anything. Just be yourselves. We’re all here for a reason.’ That was the kind of team I think they wanted to build. We’ve been swinging the bats all right. I think we can do it a little bit better, and I’m sure it’s going to come around. On the bases, that stuff happens. You’ve got to be aggressive to win games in this league, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us today.”
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