It’s not often that a team loses by four runs in extra innings. A lot of times, it takes a catastrophe.
And that’s probably a pretty fair term for what happened to the Minnesota Twins in the 11th inning of their 6-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Target Field on Friday night.
Three Twins pitchers combined to give up four earned runs in the inning. Shoddy defense and the somewhat curious decision to intentionally walk Greg Allen — who has a .655 OPS this season — all conspired with Brusdar Graterol struggling mightily in his home debut to make it an inning to forget.
But how the Twins got there in the first place was also a bit strange.
With Sergio Romo on the mound and the Twins up 2-1, Indians center fielder Oscar Mercado opened the eighth with a triple into the right-field corner. LaMonte Wade Jr. — who entered the game for an injured Jake Cave in the fifth — was shaded very far toward center field, and had almost no chance to catch the ball on the fly.
But it was his decision to dive that cost the Twins — and immensely so.
Wade was nowhere near the ball when he dove (see below), and even though he was lucky in the sense that it sort of took a lawn dart-like hop and didn’t trickle too far away, Mercado still picked up third base without much trouble. Maybe then Mercado scores on his own instead of needing a fly ball from Yasiel Puig 14 pitches later if the ball squirts away any further.
In fact, this picture doesn’t exactly do it justice. Because it’s offset to the left-field side, it makes the dive look slightly closer than it appeared on television, anyway.
But if Wade manages to simply play the ball standing up, he can keep Mercado to a double. Of that I’m very confident. And if the inning plays out the same after that, Puig’s drive to center only moves him up to third, and with two outs he’s stranded as the tying run when Jason Kipnis lines to center to enter the inning.
Now there’s no way to know how the inning would have played out had Wade held Mercado to a double. We can only see what happened afterward. It’s still no guarantee that the pitch selection and plate approaches from the subsequent hitters stay the same, leading to identical results. In fact, it’s probably…improbable.
But it also shows the razor-thin margin good teams can work with if their offense has a tough night or if they’re playing another very, very good team with the division on the line. Fortunately, the Twins have banked some ground on the Indians — as both have played almost identical baseball in the second half — so this one doesn’t sting as much as it possibly could have.
It also shows how difficult the road has been for the Twins of late as far as outfielders are concerned. Not a single one of Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler or Byron Buxton is 100 percent — and it’s been that way for quite a while. Marwin Gonzalez hasn’t played since Aug. 27. Cave is now dealing with a new health issue. Fortunately, Wade came back from a dislocated thumb recently, or the Twins would be hurting even more.
But the misplay in right by Wade — officially a triple, so not technically an error — shows how hard and/or fast the game can be for young players getting their first taste. Wade is still so new to the league that he doesn’t even have his first big-league hit yet.
And honestly, it’s hard to fault Wade for his effort. He hustled his ass off to get that ball and made a valiant attempt at the end — just an ill-advised one.
Luckily for the Twins, it’s a long sprint to the finish line — and they’ve made it most of the way there (87 percent) with a healthy lead.
But it cuts both ways.
With little time left in the season, the Twins are running perilously low on time to get their outfield trio back up to speed before the possibility of heading to the Bronx or Houston for an American League Division Series — assuming their lead remains intact.
The Twins are winning the race, but they’re doing so with bad wheels. That feels….problematic.
Oh, and as a side note — how about getting Alex Kirilloff up here after the Pensacola season ends? He’s been somewhat quietly removed from the Arizona Fall League roster, he’s absolutely raking of late (.317/.362/.542 since Aug. 1 including playoffs), he’s maybe the best and most mature Twins hitting prospect since Joe Mauer and the entire outfield, as noted beforehand, is dinged up.
It’s just an idea.