While most of the rest of sports watching America was tuned into four other MLB games with implications for the the AL Wild Card spots or Sunday NFL football contests, the Twins and Royals squared off in Kansas City to finish out the string.
Minnesota’s first six batters of the game reached base safely against Kansas City starter Jackson Kowar. Luis Arraez started things off with a single to center on the game’s second pitch. Then Byron Buxton doubled to left, which moved Arraez over to third base. Jorge Polanco drove the first pitch he saw from Kowar out to right center field for his 33rd home run of the season, scoring three runs before Kowar had thrown his 8th pitch.
The three runs batted in by Polanco were his 96th, 97th, and 98th of the season and they are notable because they put Polanco past Roy Smalley for most RBI in a season by a switch hitter in franchise history.
Josh Donaldson drew a walk to keep the line moving. He was followed by Max Kepler, who smacked a single to right that brought Donaldson to third base. Miguel Sanó added his own sharp single to left to drive in Donaldson and move Kepler to third. Brent Rooker was the first Twin to succumb to Kowar today, striking out after a lengthy at bat. Nick Gordon capped the scoring in what ended up a five run top of the first with an RBI groundout that scored Kepler. Ryan Jeffers finished the frame as the ninth man to bat by striking out.
Twins starter Charlie Barnes finally got the chance to start his day in the bottom of the first and would dance into and out of trouble in both the first and second innings. Minnesota went 1-2-3 in both the top of the 2nd and top of 3rd, setting the stage for the Royals to claw back into the game in the bottom of the third.
A hit by pitch sandwiched between two singles brought the Royals’ first run across and had Barnes facing runners on first and second with no one out in a 5-1 game. Barnes would nearly escape the rally by coaxing a fly ball out and a fielder’s choice on the infield. But with runners on the corners and two out, Royals’ speedster Adalberto Mondesi swiped second base. Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers whipped a sinker worthy of Randy Dobnak towards second base trying to catch Mondesi and the ball skipped into center field for an error that allowed the runner from third to score and Mondesi to gain third base.
With the score now 5-2, Michael A. Taylor beat out an infield single on a soft chopper to the hole between shortstop and third base, which scored another run. That would end Barnes’ day after 2 and two-thirds. He allowed seven hits, a walk, and three runs on 54 pitches and finished his 2021 season with an ERA of 5.92. Reliever Juan Minaya came on to stop the bleeding and did so courtesy of a ground ball out that was aided by an overturned call after the Twins correctly called for a replay challenge.
The fourth inning went quietly for both teams. Arraez and Buxton teamed up to pad Minnesota’s lead in the top of the fifth. Arraez, facing reliever Joel Payamps — who had just entered the game in relief of Kowar, who settled down to grind out four innings after that rough top of the first — singled to start things off. Buxton continued his torrid finish to the season with a long home run off the left field foul pole, his career-best 19th (in just 61 games.)
That homer would cap the offensive activity for both teams on the day. The Twins offense did their part to speedily finish out the season, going down in order in the 6th and 8th innings. Arraez singled for the third time of the day with one out in the 7th, but nothing came of it. Andrelton Simmons singled to lead off the 9th but was erased on a Jeffers double play grounder. Altogether, the Twins rapped out nine hits but countered them with twelve strikeouts (six of which came from the combination of Rooker and Jeffers.)
Holding that 7-3 lead in the fifth, Rocco Baldelli entrusted the remainder of the game to his vaunted late inning relief triumvirate of Nick Vincent, Kyle Barraclough, and Jorge Alcala. The trio would deliver on Baldelli’s faith, working the final four frames without allowing a run, permitting just two Royals to reach base, and striking out nine. Alcala was awarded his first career major league save for his four out effort. This appearance also finished out a very strong final two-plus months for the young right hander — he gave up just two runs over his final 18 and-two-thirds innings with a 24-3 strikeout to walk ratio in August, September, and October.
The win probability chart for this one is not terribly exciting. The Twins had control of this one from the jump thanks to the big top of the first inning. After the five run outburst, Minnesota was about 85% to win and generally stayed in that range or better the rest of the way.
Of course, the bigger story for the Twins was that this road series victory gave them a final 2021 record of 73-89. While that mark is still worst in a pretty weak AL Central division, avoiding 90-losses is a (very) minor accomplishment after the way the season started. It’s a meaningless moral victory in the grand scheme of things (*and most definitely NOT mission accomplished), but it’s sure better than 72-90 heading into a critical offseason.
Luis Arraez (3-4, 2 R)
Byron Buxton (2-4, HR #19, 2 R, 2 RBI)
Jorge Polanco (1-4, HR #33, 1 R, 3 RBI)
Bullpen (Minaya, Vincent, Barraclough, Alcala — 6.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K)
No Duds, Twins win!
ROBOT ROLL CALL
Much of the game thread discussion today was about the AL Wild Card-relevant games. Unfortunately, the Yankees and Red Sox once again crushed the hopes and dreams of millions by winning today to clinch their playoff spots and subsequently deny us the chaos that could have been multiple game 163s tomorrow. Typical large market, selfish behavior from them, methinks.
More seriously, today marks the end of the Twins 2021 season. While this season certainly did not turn out the way Twins Territory was hoping, it’s been a pleasure to interact with this community on a daily basis for the last six months. Thank you for hanging in there through the doldrums and making your quirky contributions to this little corner of the internet. Let’s keep it going into the winter!