Twins Play Best Against Elite Opponents

John Gilbert

If you are a baseball fan, specializing in the Minnesota Twins, the old, familiar advice still works: Don’t look at every game from the perspective of this being an awful season, as in “Yeah they won today, but they’re still going to finish last.”

Instead, watch each game of this second half of the season with the idea that you’re going to look for whatever entertainment value is available, and appreciate it. True, it’s unlikely the Twins are going to get up to .500, even, but after their horrendous start they have become quite entertaining to watch. Particularly because they might catch fire and score a bunch of runs, or they may be cruising along and suddenly give up a half-dozen runs.

Sometimes those things happen in the same game.

Last week’s road trip was a perfect example. The Twins had to go to Detroit, and they were 0-7 against the Tigers, who are still a strong team even if they’ve slipped from the top elite level.

The Twins lost 1-0 in the opener, when Ricky Nolasco was the luckless pitcher who gave up a first-inning home run to Justin Upton and then shut out the Tigers. Somebody named Wade Boyd was the winning pitcher – his first Major League victory – with a 3-hitter. In the second game, the Twins beat Anibal Sanchez 6-2 with a 5-run eruption in the seventh. Soft-throwing Tommy Milone was masterful, changing speeds and nicking corners, and he had a 1-hit shutout going into the ninth. The Tigers scored twice, but the Twins held on to win 6-2 and their first triumph against the Tigers evened the series at a game apiece.

In the third game, Justin Verlander started for Detroit and was throwing bullets. Joe Mauer caught up to one of them and socked a home run in the first, and Earvin Santana was dented for a tying homer in the last of the first by Ian Kinsler, but the two came back to engage in a stirring pitcher’s duel that remained 1-1 through eight. The Twins were 1-37 in games in which they scored less than three runs, so it didn’t look good. But with two out and nobody on in the top of the ninth, Max Kepler lined a home run to break the tie off the Tiger bullpen, and another hit brought up Eddie Rosario, who also homered, and the Twins left Detroit with a 4-1 decision, thanks to the closer success of Brandon Kintzler. That kept their 1-37 intact, because, of course, they’d scored more than three!

That sent the Twins winging to Boston, where the Red Sox were waiting. Those who got pumped up by taking the series from Detroit might have had false hopes, but they pretty well disappeared when the Red Sox scored three in the first, three in the third, and kept on scoring for a 13-2 romp in Fenway Park. A knuckleballer named Stephen Wright allowed only four hits and struck out nine for the Red Sox.

During the radio broadcast of that game, I heard Dan Gladden say something to the effect that “they aren’t playing Detroit any more, and the Red Sox are a much stronger team than the Tigers.”

A glance at the standings shows the Tigers and Red Sox have quite similar records, and both are in second place in their divisions, so the comment was patently unfair. It made me hope the Twins could come back strong after that blown first game.

Sure enough, it happened, but not in routine fashion. In Game 2 of the 4-game series, Kyle Gibson pitched what might have been his best performance in a Twins uniform. He gave up a solo home run in the first, and that was it. He only gave up one more hit through eight innings, and struck out six with only one walk. Brian Dozier, who went 3-for-3, homered in the second for a 1-1 tie, and Sano, who also got three hits, doubled home Joe Mauer for a 2-1 lead, and Kintzler made it stand up with a scoreless ninth.

Kintzler’s save was nothing routine, either. He gave up a leadoff grounder up the middle, and Brin Dozier darted over from second for what looked like a typical Dozier sparkler, but he muffed the ball. He knows he should have had it, but it went for a hit. Next game a legitimate single to right, putting two on with nobody out. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts – who might be the best shortstop in the game right now – coaxed an 11-pitch walk from Kintzler to load the bases and bring up – who else? – Big Papi, David Ortiz, the top Twins killer on the Boston roster.

Kintzler got him to hit a grounder to second. Dozier fired home to start a 4-2-3 double play and the Twins lead was still clinging, 2-1. Harley Remirez still could have won it, but his line drive to right field was out No. 3 and the Twins won the nail-biter 2-1.

Shattered was that daunting statistic that the Twins only won once when they’d scored less than three. They now have played 40 games this season in which they have scored none, one, or two, and they have “improved” to 2-38.

Game 3 of the series saw the Twins jump ahead 1-0, but Boston matched it in the first; the Twins scored three in the top of the second, but the Red Sox got five in the last of the second. They had played for an hour and it was 6-4 with only two innings played. Boston went ahead 7-4, and it was 8-5 after six, and it appeared the Red Sox were going to routinely pull away.

In the top of the seventh, though, Max Kepler tripled Miguel Sano home to close the deficit to 8-6, Kendrys Vargas doubled Kepler home (8-7), Eddie Rosario singled Vargas home (8-8), and Eduardo Nunez singled to center, scoring two more runners, and it was 10-8 for the Twins. The bizarre game had more twists, as David Ortiz doubled home a run and left runners at second and third in the last of the seventh, closing it to 10-9, but the Twins bullpen came through with two shutout innings, and Sano socked an insurance home run in the eighth for an unlikely 11-9 victory.

Also-ran teams are not supposed to engage contenders in that sort of shootout, but the Twins outhit the Red Sox 19-15 to send the Fenway faithful home stunned. That meant the Twins had taken two of three in Detroit, and two of three in Boston, but there was a fourth game at Fenway.

It was another of those shootouts, with the Twins taking a 2-0 lead in the second, falling behind 3-2 in the third, tying it 3-all in the fourth. The Red Sox moved ahead 4-3 in the fifth, but an inning-ending grounder to third incredibly went right through Sano’s expansive legs, an error that made it 5-3 and left two on for a three-run home run by Shaw and it was 8-3.

Time to leave Boston, but not before the Twins closed it to 8-5 in the seventh, and 8-7 in the eighth. That sent the Twins home after going 2-1 in Detroit and 2-2 in Boston. Those two teams remain in hot contention, but the Twins played some of their best ball against them.

If you go to Target Field to catch a Twins game, or watch them on the big screen at home, don’t leave early.