The announcing crew had largely written Minnesota off by the fourth inning. The Twins didn’t write themselves off, though — showing late life indicative of this team’s improved postseason pedigree, Minnesota kept things interesting, but ultimately dropped the first game to a difficult Houston ballclub.
Off the bat, it was another cold dunk into the icy stress of October baseball. The Twins had multiple runners on against Justin Verlander in a shaky first and second inning — Verlander, falling behind and working into inflated counts, was able to get a double play in each inning to keep the Twins off the board.
Meanwhile, Houston got started quickly.
It was an instant tone-setter for Houston, a towering “welcome back to the playoffs” shot from a guy who’s been there more than most. And it was the first of two homers given up by Bailey Ober in his Game One start, an outing that lasted a comfortably-scripted three innings before Kenta Maeda was summoned to take the next turn in the order.
That second homer was a third inning two-run shot from fifth-year offensive juggernaut Yordan Alvarez, who shot one to right with one out after an Alex Bregman HBP. It was another October blast, 379 feet into right field, that meant for Alvarez picking up right where he left off after a dramatic Game Six homer at home helped to clinch Houston’s victory in last fall’s World Series. On the pitch, Bailey Ober booked himself a one-way ticket to Meatball World:
As this progressed, the theme for the Twins was missed opportunities against J.V. It was at times a shaky outing bailed out by double plays and baserunning errors, namely Edouard Julien’s putout from second on a ground ball to the third baseman. But Verlander’s last three innings didn’t feature a Minnesota hit, and all the while Houston was adding their fourth and fifth runs on RBI singles.
Twins playoff teams of the past may not have at least made things interesting, which today’s Twins were able to do.
After his removal from the game after the sixth inning, Verlander was spotted asking a reasonable question: “Are you sure?” And for a moment, it seemed the narrative juices were sliding Minnesota’s way, much as they had done after Jose Berrios’ expedited departure on Wednesday in Minneapolis.
Now facing Hector Neris, the Twins got to work. Matt Wallner took one for the team and reached on a HBP of his own; Ryan Jeffers singled him over before a pair of strikeouts summoned Jorge Polanco for one of his first major postseason moments.
One batter later, Royce Lewis remembered he was Royce Lewis.
In a span of what felt like 30 seconds, a 5-0 affair was compressed into a one-run ballgame. As fun as it was, things would end there for the Twin lineup. Max Kepler had a double later in the inning, and Carlos Correa doubled to lead off the eighth, but neither of them were herded home by the bats of those swinging after them.
As the comeback faltered, Yordan Alvarez put a little more sauce on it.
It wasn’t technically the fatal blow, as the Twins wouldn’t score more than four runs on the day, but it was an exclamation mark on Houston’s first game back in playoff action. With the exception of one relief pitcher, the Astro mound corps had it together today, providing more than enough space for their killer offense to disperse runs through the batting order. Both teams had nine hits, but Houston struck out 13 Twins, walked three, and allowed two homers — Minnesota fanned just seven Astros, walking four of them, and surrendering three dingers.
I’d be remiss not to mention some more stellar defense — with the exception of some third base miscues, Minnesota’s been marvelous out in the field. They continued that stretch in the eighth inning, when Ryan Jeffers made an athletic recovery and Carlos Correa slapped down a catlike tag to get a lumbering Jose Abreu trying to advance on a passed ball.
But that would be the last highlight of the game. Former Twin Ryan Pressly closed out a perfect ninth with two strikeouts, including cutting down both Polanco and Lewis in their mutual attempts to replicate the success of their seventh inning.
So, it is with a 1-0 series lead that the Houston Astros turn their focus to Game Two Sunday night, which will see the Twins ushering Pablo Lopez back into the limelight. It’s a matchup that might inspire a bit more confidence; Bailey Ober is no Randy Dobnak in Yankee Stadium, but any gameplan that relies upon piggybacking multiple starters-turned-playoff-relievers is an approach that says “we’re just going to see what we can do here.”
Parts of it worked; Chris Paddack looked good in his inning-plus, and the Twins played a competitive game without turning to any of Varland/Stewart/Jax/Duran.
But tomorrow night is all-hands-on-deck; the Twins, riding the high of their first postseason series win in 20 years, need to secure the victory on Sunday to avoid an 0-2 deficit that would turn every remaining ALDS game into a must-win.
I know you’ll all be there tomorrow... so we’ll see you then!
3B Jorge Polanco (2-for-5, R, 3 RBI, HR)
DH Royce Lewis (1-for-5, R, RBI, HR)
SS Carlos Correa (2-for-4, 2B)
C Ryan Jeffers (2-for-4, R)
SP Bailey Ober (3 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 K, 2 HR)
RP Kenta Maeda (2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K)
LF Matt Wallner (0-for-3, R, HBP, 2 K)
PH-CF Willi Castro (0-for-2, K)
ROBOT ROLL CALL:
Cheers to another active gamethread with an encouraging lack of doomerism despite the result. We’re in October now; every team is rock-solid, and every win is well-earned. The Twins will be back tomorrow to even the series!