KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The scene on the field at Kauffman Stadium after Saturday’s game was pouring rain, about one hour ahead of the previously scheduled 6:15 p.m. first pitch — validating the decision to move the game up five hours.
The scene in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse after Saturday’s game was one of smiles and crutches, a weird juxtaposition no matter how you look at it but perhaps one of slight relief.
It mattered very little that the Twins were powered to their 101st win of the season in a bullpen game when Nelson Cruz popped his 41st home run of the season off Royals reliever Jacob Barnes in the eighth inning. That homer gave the Twins a 4-3 lead which ultimately was nailed down by closer Taylor Rogers for his 30th save. But it was what happened mere moments earlier that, at least at the time, sucked the wind out of the sails of not only Minnesota but its fairly large contingent of fans who made the trip down I-35 for the final regular-season series of 2019.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Royals third baseman Hunter Dozier hit a popup near the mound. Pitcher Tyler Duffey never made visual contact with the ball, and fearing for the safety of his own gourd bolted off the back of the mound to cede the play to one of his corner infielders — first baseman Willians Astudillo or third baseman Luis Arraez.
Astudillo came down with the ball and the final out of the inning, but in the process made contact with Arraez, who crumpled to the ground in immediate and immense pain, clutching at his right hamstring area. From the outset it was clear it was a fairly significant issue, as manager Rocco Baldelli and trainer Tony Leo sprinted to his side along with most of the fielders who were coming off after the inning. Within moments, Leo was testing Arraez’s lower right extremities, and not long after that a cart emerged from the home bullpen to carry Arraez off.
There was some question of if Duffey’s sudden movement could have altered how Arraez and Astudillo approached the ball, but the pitcher said he didn’t believe so.
“Not at all,” Duffey said. “Astudillo, he came in. I heard Asty so I kind of checked where everybody was at and shot the gap and then Arraez coming from third. I think he had a little momentum coming and couldn’t slow down quick enough. It’s kind of a tough way to finish that game. Hopefully he’ll be good to go. We’ve got a few days off. We’ll try to get him some recovery and get in there.”
Duffey also said from his vantage point and after watching replay, he thought Astudillo stepped on Arraez’s foot and in a weird way may have prevented him from an even more severe injury.
“Obviously that’s a tough moment,” Baldelli said. “Nobody ever wants to see that. Luis has been wonderful for us but that doesn’t even matter. You just don’t want to see anyone having to deal with a situation like that.
“Luckily, initial reads, X-rays were negative on his ankle. He’s already in there breaking a few smiles and seemingly doing a little better than he probably initially thought. He was definitely scared at the time that it happened and I don’t blame him but at least we’ve got some pretty good initial news and we’re just going to go with a right ankle sprain and that’s seemingly what it is right now.”
Cameras captured Arraez, for all intents and purposes a 22-year-old kid, wiping away tears as he was carried away alone back to the home bullpen on the cart. As such, it wasn’t hard to see yet another important injury further hampering the team’s chances of advancing in October despite a historic offensive season.
But then there were the smiles.
Sure, there were concerned looks from teammates trying to read how Arraez — still fully in uniform while on crutches in the clubhouse after the game — was dealing with the injury, but the smiles on his face as he clumsily tried to take his jersey off suggested perhaps that while it wasn’t an ideal situation, some of the initial fear had subsided.
In other words, crisis averted — but for the short-term, we still don’t know much.
“Yeah, (it’s) difficult,” said Cruz, who is not only a team leader but one of Arraez’s biggest influences in the clubhouse. “He’s a huge part of the team. Definitely, we’re a better team when he’s playing. So hopefully he’s ready for Friday.”
“Well know more tomorrow,” Duffey said.
That was the refrain from Baldelli as well. The manager conceded the obvious — Arraez won’t play on Sunday — but wouldn’t commit beyond that.
Fortunately, the Twins have nearly a week until the American League Division Series opens in the Bronx next Friday.
Will that lineup include Max Kepler and Marwin Gonzalez? Probably.
Will it include Luis Arraez? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Notes & Quotes
- The Twins tied a record with 14 wins in this year’s season series with the Royals. In 2002, they went 14-5.
- Jorge Soler’s home run off Tyler Duffey gave him his sixth multi-homer game and fourth this season. It also gave him an AL-high 47 homers on the season, nine more than the previous franchise record of 38 by Mike Moustakas in 2017 and two more than Mike Trout, who has been shut down for the season.
- With a win on Sunday, the Twins (101-60) would match the 1965 team for the most wins in team history. They’d also move into sole possession of the third-most road wins in a single season in MLB history with 56.
- The win moved the Twins to 50-25 (.667) against the AL Central this season, the third-highest winning percentage by a team against their own division in the big leagues.
- Mitch Garver snapped an 0-for-11 skid with a double in the second inning.
- Rogers’ 30th save is the most for a Twins reliever since Glen Perkins had 32 in 2015.
- Cody Stashak will finish the season as the first pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900) with at least 25 strikeouts and one walk or less.
- Baldelli on the health of Max Kepler: “Max has been doing very well. The reports have been very positive. I think he personally is becoming very optimistic about this upcoming week. When we see him very optimistic that allows us to be optimistic.”
- Baldelli on if the Arraez situation will change how he handles Sunday’s lineup: “I don’t think it’s going to change what we’re going to do. We also don’t have 18-20 position players, so we don’t have a backup at every position. We don’t have two backups in case something happens there. I think this was obviously unfortunate, and nobody ever wants to see something like this, but I think there still could be some regular guys that are going to go out there and get a little work tomorrow. I can’t say if they’ll play part or all of the game, but it’s not going to change really anything we were looking at.”
- Baldelli on if he was surprised Duffey raced away from the play when Arraez got hurt: “I’m not going to create a narrative about the play. That’s a play that gets made even if there’s very minor confusion on the field. That happens a lot on infield popups, and you have to communicate. It’s nobody’s fault. There were a lot of people in a very small space, and the height of the popup probably just forced everyone to kind of rush over there at the same time. It’s kind of like a free for all on those plays, that’s how those plays kind of work. Eventually someone calls for the ball and makes the play. In this instance, the play was made. There just happened to be contact, and there’s no real way around that.”
- Baldelli on using his expected “playoff bullpen” with another game yet to cover on Sunday: “The way we were kind of planning things out, there was a group of guys that we wanted to throw today because the way it kind of times up, we can give them another day off the mound next week and then they’ll be ready to go on Friday. So we didn’t want to push it to tomorrow. You never know what’s going to happen. You can push things off and like you say, it could be weather, it could be really anything but if you threw them on Sunday, the guys that threw today, if you threw them on Sunday, then you’re talking about do you want to throw them Wednesday? If you wanted to throw Friday and potentially Saturday, you probably don’t want to throw them off the mound on Wednesday and if you were going to throw them on Tuesday, you might not want to throw them tomorrow so the way it just kind of balanced out well was to throw them today.”
- Duffey on allowing the home run to Soler, snapping his streak of 23.2 consecutive scoreless innings (26 appearances): “I would have rather not given up a home run today. It’s one of those things. I haven’t checked my stats in three months. You just go try and pitch and get outs. Streaks are fun. But, ultimately, blew a save and got a win. I guess that’s one of those double-edged swords. Rog got his 30th. I didn’t completely screw that up for him. Thank you, Nelly. I gave Soler a little cushion to work with tomorrow. All jokes aside, everybody got in today and got some work. Hope Luis is good to go in five days or so. I think the adrenaline of the postseason will help a little bit.”
- Duffey on if fans should take note how good the bullpen has been lately: “I don’t see why they wouldn’t. We’ve been pretty damn good since whenever the date is, I know there’s a date. But we play in Minnesota. We don’t play in New York, we don’t play in L.A. So it’s just flying through the radar, and hopefully it stays that way. Then we can shock some people and have some fun.”