In a lot of ways it felt like October baseball was played at Target Field on Sunday. It rained all morning, and took a tremendous turnaround by the grounds crew to make sure that the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins started on time at 1:10 p.m.
The temperature hovered in the upper 50s all afternoon long, and it was clear a lot of the attention downtown was being directed to the team in purple and gold a mile down the road as the crow flies rather than the one in blue and red, which lost to another team in similar colors by a 5-2 score.
What wasn’t October-like was the vibe around the Twins, who had a very “getaway day” lineup to start the game, and that feeling was only enhanced when Ian Miller had to enter the game for Max Kepler after just one plate appearance and one inning played in the field.
Miller entered in center, moving LaMonte Wade Jr. to right. At that moment, two-thirds of the Twins outfield had a combined zero MLB hits.
So it was always going to be one of those days. Randy Dobnak opened things on the mound and breezed through his first inning before hitting some turbulence in the second. Devin Smeltzer came in and pitched respectably for the next four innings. Cody Stashak got one out and gave up an earned run, then handed the reins over to Ryne Harper and Fernando Romero, who combined for 2.2 scoreless frames the rest of the way.
If you fell asleep reading that paragraph, it’s completely understandable. It was simply a nondescript game in a playoff race that’s all but decided. With 19 games left after Sunday, the Twins simply have to go 10-9 to leave Cleveland no choice but to go 15-3 in order to knot things up after 162 games.
So no, even though the Twins had chances to tie the game up in the seventh and the ninth innings — ironically enough, Kepler’s spot in the lineup in both instances — manager Rocco Baldelli didn’t completely exhaust all his possible resources in an attempt to grind out a game and series win against the Indians.
C.J. Cron hit for Miller — who still has zero MLB hits — in the seventh, and Ryan LaMarre, who was acquired earlier in the day from the Atlanta Braves and went into center after Cron hit, was allowed to hit for himself while representing the tying run with two outs and Cleveland closer Brad Hand on the ropes.
But let’s be fair — Mike Clevinger was brilliant for the Indians, who are fighting for their playoff lives right now — and the Twins still put up a fight twice in the final three innings without going to their big(gest) guns on the bench. Also keep in mind that the Indians made a number of terrific defensive plays to snuff out potential Twins rallies, as well.
Ultimately, Baldelli decided two full days off were more valuable for guys like Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano, who were battling wrist and back ailments, respectively, rather than pulling out all the stops to potentially win a game that, at least as of now, has very little meaning in the long run.
It doesn’t get much easier for the Indians after this, either. They’re en route to the airport to catch a flight out west to Anaheim to play the Angels starting Monday, and then will fly back home to face the Twins next weekend where, in all honesty, Minnesota could put the division on ice.
Sure, maybe fans look at this in the moment and feel like it was a missed opportunity to knock Cleveland down with a death punch. But as things stand now, the team’s magic number is 14 — the combination of Twins wins and Indians losses the rest of the way which will eliminate the boys from Cleveland.
Rather than exhausting themselves to a finish that likely won’t matter — that is, in the regular season — it’s clear Rocco and company have their eyes on the prize.
And not only that, but getting to October as healthily as possible.
It might not make sense now, but the Twins are hoping it does seven weeks from now.
Baldelli, like a soothsayer, summed it up succinctly before Sunday’s game.
“We’re hoping to play for a while. We want to make sure we’re set up in the best possible way to do that.”