There’s only so many more times we can call these “pivotal games,” as with each loss to the Cleveland Guardians — like Minnesota’s 7-6 defeat tonight in excruciating fashion — pushes the Twins further and further out of a realistic mix for the division. In first place for so many weeks in 2022, the Twins are now back under .500 and seven games back of this evening’s victors.
This one might take the cake.
The Twins were dominated by Cleveland starting pitching; stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Called up to fill out the doubleheader roster, rookie Konnor Pilkington tossed 5.2 innings of one-hit ball; that one hit came with two outs in the sixth, with Minnesota’s offense — or what remains of it — remaining royally unproductive.
On the flip side of the coin was the Guardian offense, which once again scored in the first inning, and once again featured shortstop Amed Rosario racking up ribbies like it’s his job to get hits at the major-league level (it is.)
These factors combined to generate a scoreboard that comfortably read 5-0 Guardians after seven. For a long time, that looked to be the story of the game — another dominant beatdown, more proof for those still skeptical that the Guardians, despite their wonky exit velocity metrics, youthful roster construction, and inactivity both in the offseason and at the trading deadline, are simply a better team than this year’s durability-challenged Twonks.
And then, the visiting eighth.
It started when an Owen Miller error in the infield allowed Jake Cave to reach leading off the inning. At this point, then-reliever Trevor Stephan was spelled by Sam Hentges, who entered the game and allowed Jose Miranda to single his way on, off a 1-2 pitch.
From there, it was a full-count HBP to Carlos Correa that suddenly juiced the bases. But the Twins had stewed up minor threats before this evening, to absolutely no avail. Would this be any different? “Yes,” said Gio Urshela, “I’m going to single on a sharp line drive to center, scoring both Cave and Miranda, and making this a 5-2 game.”
Gary Sanchez would score Correa on a sacrifice fly, but after James Karinchak — now the third pitcher released by Terry Francona in the inning — retired Luis Arraez in a pinch-hitting appearance, it would be up to Nick Gordon as the tying run with two outs.
And tie the run, he did.
With new life breathed into the game, Emilio Pagan was allowed a leash that only went so far as a one-out eighth-inning walk (he had already pitched the seventh.) Rocco’s Magical Arm Barn produced deadline acquisition Jorge Lopez to face the bottom of the Guardian lineup with a man on.
Lopez fanned Myles Straw to record the second out, but pinch-hitter Andres Gimenez was hit in a pinch; with two men on now and another bench bat striding to the plate in the person of Richie Palacios, Lopez needed a big out now more than ever, and earned it via a chopper to short.
With the specter of Cleveland’s consistent late-game victories hanging over the fanbase, it was with a gnawing sense of dread that the Minnesota faithful observed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth, capped with a great catch by Steven Kwan in the corner.
Lopez returned for the last of the ninth, and made the controversial decision to walk the leadoff batter. One twinkly little nibbler back to the mound later, and the winning run was at second, which precipitated an intentional walk to Jose Ramirez.
That brought up the 0-for-4 Josh Naylor, who had already walked off the Twins in 2022 with a homer three months back; after a light battle, Lopez got him swinging.
And then, horrible deja vu; a spiked pitch darted away from Gary Sanchez, and Kwan — still on second base, mind — charged around third and raced home in an attempt to recreate the heartbreaking play from Friday night. But for a fleeting moment, the baseball gods were on Minnesota’s side; the ball snuck into the suite behind home and rendered Kwan officially unable to advance more than one base.
Moments later, a 4-3 putout ended the inning (despite a dangerously low throw) and stranded the winning run at third.
Fade into —
EXT. MANFRED LAND — NIGHT
[The crowd roars. The Twins do not advance the Manfred Man and are set down in order. The Guardians immediately single to left and move the winning run to third. The runner on first steals second. Michael Fulmer strikes out Straw, must now face Clement. A weak fly ball cannot advance the runner. A grounder to short ends the inning. Cut to —]
EXT. MANFRED LAND — NIGHTIER
[The Twins have another chance to score. Nothing happens. Nick Gordon is intentionally walked; nobody else reaches base. The Guardians immediately advance their Manfred Man again. Griffin Jax gets Rosario chasing on one of those sliders. Jose Ramirez trots to first as part of the world’s most obvious intentional walk. Josh Naylor re-appears, is intentionally walked on a 2-0 count. The bases are loaded. Oscar Gonzalez grounds out. Baseball goes on.]
EXT. MANFRED LAND — NIGHTIEST
[Jake Cave strides in for an honorable duel with Bryan Shaw. Shaw wins. Miranda flies out, but the Twins advance a Manfred Man for the first time. Correa grounds out. The hurt sets in again. Dereck Rodriguez is here now. He gets a strikeout to begin the home 12th. A single to center follows; the runner is sent — Contreras throws the runner out by 20 feet. Cleveland challenges the plate-blocking rule anyway. They lose their challenge. A little pop-up back to Contreras ends the inning.]
INT. ROB MANFRED’S EMPORIUM OF PAIN — TIME UNCLEAR
[Something called Kirk McCarty is pitching for Cleveland in the 13th inning. Gio Urshela singles. In a curious defensive sequence, Sandy Leon gets a bunt single. The bases are loaded for Contreras. He strikes out. Nick Gordon hits a fly ball deep enough. 6-5 Minnesota. Players on both sides express confusion, are reminded that runs can be scored in a baseball game. Someone wearing #87 is in the box, flies out.
The Guardians bunt Mr. Man over. Kwan flies out; Clement can’t move. Clement moves on the next batter; Amed Rosario gets his fourth hit of the game and knots the game at 6 with two outs. The man is insane. How many RBI does one man need in a series. Rodriguez is forced to pitch to Jose Ramirez. Ramirez grounds out.]
INT. ROB MANFRED’S EMPORIUM OF PAIN — OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF REALITY
[The Twins go down as quickly as ever in their half of the 14th. Both teams are a combined 9-for-42 with RISP now. Naylor is walked. The guy with the SpongeBob SquarePants walk-up music strikes out. A would be 6-4-3 double play is thwarted by a safe call at first. Baldelli challenges the ruling at first and the slide rule at second, because there is no longer anything to lose for any human involved in sport. Nothing changes. Runners are on the corners.
EXT. ABNER DOUBLEDAY’S PERVERTED NIGHTMARE — WITHIN SOME LOVECRAFTIAN HELLSCAPE
[Carlos Correa advances Miranda with a deep fly to right. Urshela is walked. Leon GIDP's. Cleveland returns in a cinematic twist. They bunt the runner to third. The winning run returns to 90 feet away. Multiple squeeze attempts fail. A hard chopper sails to the hot corner. In a single motion, Urshela picks the ball and tags the runner at third for the second out, eliminating the threat. Kwan singles the runner to third. Amed Rosario re-appears, entering the at-bat 8-for-12 with six RBI and 11 total bases during the doubleheader.
A hot grounder up the middle is booted by Palacios. The run scores.]
EXT. THE VOID — BETWEEN TIME AND SPACE
[ROCCO emerges from a fold in materiality.]
It is done.
[Peacefully, ROCCO disintegrates.]
There is another game in a matter of hours. There is a game left yet on Monday. The baseball will continue until morale improves. They have taken the Bridge, and the Second Hall. We have barred the gates, but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes. Drums, drums in the deep. We cannot get out. Shadow moves in the dark. We cannot get out. They are coming.