The Minnesota Twins continued their stretch of winning close games against inferior opponents on Monday night by taking an early lead, giving it all back, and walking it off in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Twins gave rookie Elvin Rodriguez a rude welcome in his first major-league start. After a Byron Buxton pop-out to start the bottom of the first inning, Luis Arraez walked on four pitches, Carlos Correa slapped a single to right field, and Jorge Polanco tapped a check-swing roller to the left of shortstop to load the bases. On a 2-0 pitch, Max Kepler lined a grand slam into the right-field seats, and it felt as though the Twins would put together an impressive offensive performance.
But that was it. The Twins mustered only two hits from the second through the eighth innings — both came off the bat of Luis Arraez, and one was an infield dribbler. The offense was completely nonexistent as the Tigers got themselves back into the game, single run by single run.
Chris Archer did the thing that Twins fans are already quite accustomed to the veteran righthander doing: four innings pitched, just one earned run, a bit more than a baserunner an inning, and a pitch count that was just slightly too high to continue.
Griffin Jax came into the game with a 4-1 lead and gave up a solo home run to former Twin Jonathan Schoop in the fifth inning. In the sixth, Spencer Torkelson hit a rocket to deep right-center that Buxton has often back-pocketed with ease, but the ball clanged off the top of his glove for a double. Three pitches later, light-hitting Eric Haase poked a single into into left field and it was a 4-3 game.
In the seventh, Joe Smith gave up his first earned run of the season on a one-out double down the left-field line from Schoop and a single by Miguel Cabrera, and the game was all tied up. Javier Baez chased Smith with a single before Caleb Thielbar came in and retired two batters on pop-ups in just three pitches to get out of the jam.
Emilio Pagán was fantastic, giving up just one single while striking out three in two innings of work, and the Twins got their chance to walk it off in the bottom of the ninth.
With three lefthanded hitters due up, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch sent lefty Andrew Chafin to the mound in all his fu manchu-ed glory.
Max Kepler coaxed a walk to lead off the inning. Then, lefty-killer Kyle Garlick pinch-hit for Nick Gordon and served a single into right field softly enough to allow Kepler to scamper to third. Gary Sanchez pinch-hit for Trevor Larnach but popped out behind third base, setting the stage for Gio Urshela to bat with runners at the corners.
For the second consecutive game, Urshela played hero with the go-ahead hit. He laced a hard groundball to the left of Baez at shortstop. For some reason, the Tigers' middle infield was playing partway in with the corners in on the grass. With no outs, this would have made sense, but with one out, the Tigers likely would have been out of the inning if their middle infielders were playing at double-play depth, Instead, Baez could only knock the ball down and Kepler scored the winning run as it rolled harmlessly away.
- The Twins went seven consecutive scoreless innings on Sunday, followed by scoring 11 runs over three innings across Sunday and Monday and then going scoreless for another seven consecutive innings on Monday before walking it off in the ninth. That’s right: 7 scoreless, 11 runs in 3 innings, another 7 scoreless, and one run to win Monday’s game. Not how Rocco drew it up, no doubt, but we’ll all take it.
- The Twins have now won five straight and seven of their last nine games. Playing Cleveland, Oakland, Kansas City, and Detroit is nice.
- There’s no doubt something to this team “finding a way to win,” which is mostly a ridiculous statement and simply commentator/talking-head speak. But situational hitting and confidence in winning close games is an actual thing, even if it’s difficult to quantify.
- Luis Arraez continues to play fantastic baseball. The Twins managed just four baserunners in the second through eighth innings, and three of them were Arraez (two singles and a walk).
- The Twins are doing all of this, without Byron Buxton, essentially, as the superstar centerfielder has not been himself for the last week.
- Max Kepler: 1-for-4, 4 RBI, HR, 2 R (including game-winning run)
- Luis Arraez: 2-for-2, 2 BB, R
- Gio Urshela: 1-for-3, BB, RBI, game-winning hit
- Kyle Garlick: 1-for-1, pinch-hit to move game-winning run to third base
- Caleb Thielbar & Emilio Pagán: 2 2⁄3 IP, H, 4 K
- Byron Buxton: 0-for-4, 2 K, uncharacteristic defensive miss
The Twins host the Detroit Tigers again on Tuesday night at 6:40 p.m. CT as Sonny Gray takes the hill against young righthander Beau Brieske.