After missing their chance to push the lead in the American League Central to three games on Monday night, the Minnesota Twins opted to not let that opportunity slip through their fingers for a second straight night on Tuesday.
A four-run fifth gave the Twins the lead, and a seven-run eighth blew things open on the way to a 14-4 win over the Chicago White Sox at Target Field.
Earlier in the night, the Cleveland Indians fell to the New York Mets 9-2 at Citi Field, which set up the chance for the Twins to push their lead to three games for the first time since leading by 3.5 games following a loss to the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 6.
The Twins pounded out 14 hits in Tuesday night’s win, pushing their total to 29 for the first two games of the set with the rubber game coming up at 12:10 Wednesday afternoon.
The Twins made a winner of Michael Pineda, who was solid through seven innings and was supported by 10 of the team’s 14 hits going for extra bases.
Nelson Cruz was the offensive start on the night, with his four extra-base hits marking the first time a Twin had accomplished that feat since Michael Cuddyer did so on Sept. 21, 2005 in Oakland.
Here’s what we saw:
A glance at Pineda’s line for the night shows six hits in seven innings — with two leaving the yard — and four earned runs total. Pineda fanned four batters and walked none, and the real story was how much he pounded the strike zone.
Pineda sat 92-93 mph with his fastball all night long, and located it beautifully in the strike zone on the way to throwing 70 of his 88 pitches for strikes. In all, Pineda threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 26 batters he faced, and Twins pitchers threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of 32 White Sox hitters all night.
Pineda said he was aware that the White Sox are an aggressive bunch, and it affected how he attacked them.
“I know this is a young team,” Pineda said. “My goal is to execute my first pitch and try to get an out, because I know they want to swing.”
Pineda’s manager was especially enthused about how things panned out for Pineda, who has seen his ERA settle into more palpable territory (4.26 at present) after a rough start to the season.
“He commanded the zone,” Rocco Baldelli said. “He commanded the ball well. He threw a ton of strikes. They were not all hittable strikes, and there’s something to that. A guy who can throw that many strikes, get that much bad contact and things like that, pitch in the zone, there’s an art to it, and not many guys can do it. Big Mike can do it, and he certainly did it tonight.
“It was a very nice start, and him being able to go later on in that start, throw another couple innings on top of what he had already done, got us into a nice spot so we could then go to our bullpen.”
Cruz has been on some kind of run since the All-Star break
In 27 games since the break — including 25 starts — Cruz has pasted an MLB-best 17 home runs — three more than the next closest big leaguer. He’s hitting .360/.443/.930 over that stretch, and 23 of his 36 hits have gone for extra bases.
That mastery was on display Tuesday night, as the 39-year-old slugger ripped four extra-base hits — three doubles and a home run — including hitting two doubles when the Twins batted around in the eighth inning against Kelvin Herrera and former Minnesota starter Hector Santiago.
The home run was his 33rd of the season, and this was the first time in his storied career in which he had four extra-base hits. For the season, Cruz is hitting a sizzling 19-for-36 against the White Sox with five home runs and a slash line of .519/.552/1.222.
Against the White Sox in the second half of the season, Cruz (five), Max Kepler (four) and Jorge Polanco (three) have the most home runs.
All three homered on Tuesday night.
Cruz summed up his night very succinctly — while selling it way short.
“It definitely takes a few days to get the timing, especially for breaking pitches,” the slugger said. “I feel like yesterday I wasn’t tracking well; I feel like today it was better.”
All the manager can do is shake his head and smile.
“Um, he’s good at what he does,” Baldelli deadpanned. “He’s coming back from an injury. This is something where, 12 days ago, we didn’t know what was going to happen next, and now 12 days later, we’re not even two weeks out and you’re watching him swing and you’re going, ‘He doesn’t just look fine. He looks fantastic.’”
Beyond Cruz’s swing looking good, Baldelli just marveled at how he not only has answered the swing question, but frankly, the health one as well.
“There’s a health question that we’re trying to answer,” Baldelli said. “That’s not even discussing the timing — of missing time. When most people miss some time, it’s difficult to come back and play. Sometimes guys miss two or three days and when they come back, they’re off. It seems like he’s never really off.”
The game fell apart on the White Sox on one simple play in the fifth inning
The White Sox raced out to a 3-0 lead against Pineda in the third inning with a Yolmer Sanchez single, a Tim Anderson double and a homer from Jose Abreu for the second night in a row. The Twins answered back with two runs in the bottom half and another to tie it in the fourth — on Cruz’s homer — but things went haywire for Chicago in the fifth.
After Mitch Garver and Marwin Gonzalez opened the inning with groundouts, Jake Cave singled to left. Kepler followed with a slow roller down the line, and White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez looked to be out of the inning when catcher Welington Castillo fielded the ball and threw to first.
However, Abreu was charged with an error when he simply dropped the throw — and from there, things got ugly.
Polanco was hit by a pitch on a full count. Cruz followed with his first double of the night to give the Twins the lead and Eddie Rosario followed with a single to right, and in the span of 15 pitches — extra pitches on Lopez’s ledger, mind you — it went from a tie game to a four-run White Sox deficit.
Lopez recovered to get Miguel Sano to line to left field on the second pitch of the plate appearance to mercifully end the fifth, but that was 17 extra pitches for Lopez on a night where another inning from him could have taken some of the pressure off a bullpen that went on to allow seven earned runs in just two frames.
For the second night in a row, a freaking squirrel ran on the field — and into a dugout
All the while as things were falling apart for the White Sox in the fifth inning, the squirrel from Monday night’s game re-emerged and ran onto the field — this time entering the Chicago dugout.
The squirrel eventually raced out to left field and under the wall, but not before creating a stir not only with the crowd, but on the field.
Baldelli found it very humorous, however.
“The squirrel is real,” the manager said with a chuckle. “We might end up with a little mascot or, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found some t-shirts with some players’ faces on it or someone doing something like that pretty soon. I wouldn’t mind if the squirrel showed back up. If our guys are going to play like they did tonight with the squirrel running around, we’ll take the squirrel.”
Notes & Quotes
- After Tuesday night’s win, the Twins (77-49) need just one more victory to match last season’s total (78-84).
- Cruz was just the sixth Twin to have four extra-base hits in a game (seventh occurrence).
- Kepler (34 home runs) and Cruz (33) are the only pair of teammates in MLB with at least 33 long balls.
- C.J. Cron on the Bomba Counter display on the right-field plaza: “It’s cool. I think we’ve put ourselves in a position to deserve that. What this offense has done has been pretty historic, it seems like, so to be even in the conversation for the most home runs of all time is pretty cool, and I’m sure it’s kind of fun for the fans to peek out there and see where we’re at. Hopefully we can keep adding to it.”
- Cruz on the squirrel: “We should keep it at the stadium. I guess he’s part of the team now, 26th man.”