CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Indians are coasting to the AL Central title, and the Twins are stuck in what could be called the “Year of the Walkoff.”
The day after Francisco Lindor’s three-run homer in the ninth gave the Indians a victory, the Twins lost again in the final frame when Michael Brantley’s RBI single gave Cleveland a 5-4 victory Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field.
That’s a major league-leading 12 — 12! — walkoff losses (eight via home runs) in 114 games for the Twins, whose team record is 15 in 1964.
In the meantime, the division race is all but over. The second-place Twins, trailing the Indians by 11 games, made their sixth trade in a two-week span after the game Thursday when they sent closer Fernando Rodney to Oakland for a minor league pitcher.
The Twins did battle Thursday, as Jorge Polanco hit his first home run since returning from an 80-game PED suspension, a three-run shot in the sixth to tie the score at 4-4 off Cleveland ace Corey Kluber.
But Greg Allen led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Addison Reed, stole second, went to third on Lindor’s groundout and scored when Brantley hit a grounder past a diving first baseman Miguel Sano.
The Twins suffered back-to-back walkoff losses for the first time since July 29-30 last year at Oakland, right at the 2017 trade deadline.
They are 2-9 this season after walkoff losses.
“Tomorrow is a new day,” Polanco said, “and we’ll go on to a new series and keep our mentality to do it all over again.”
Not everyone was shaking off the past two games that easily. There were plenty of furrowed eyebrows in the clubhouse after the game.
While the Twins have struggled for much of this season, they are 8-8 vs. the Indians. But the Twins went 2-5 against them over the past 11 days, playing those games without the departed Eduardo Escobar, Ryan Pressly, Zach Duke, Lance Lynn and — except for one game — Brian Dozier. Seven of the 16 games have been separated by two runs or less.
And events during the past two games might have rubbed emotions raw. Sano flipped his bat in defiance when plate umpire Adrian Johnson called him out on strikes in the sixth. Max Kepler struck out swinging to end the inning, slamming his bat hard enough to draw gasps from fans.
There was barking from the Twins dugout during all of this, and Johnson was fed up in the seventh after hitting coach James Rowson yelled at him that a strike he called on Ehire Adrianza was high. Rowson was ejected.
“Yeah, [Rowson] protects his hitters. No question,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I think he was probably doing a little more [video] peeking upstairs than I was.”
The usually emotionless Adrianza even slammed his helmet after striking out — the 10th of the game for the Twins — to end the top of the ninth.
“It’s just part of the game,” Molitor said. “There was some frustration for sure. It seemed like we had some strike threes called that were borderline pitches. Sometimes you’ve got to fight through those things.”
Twins starter Jose Berrios walked a career-high six batters in falling behind 4-0, giving up a solo homer to Yonder Alonso and a two-run single to Lindor in the second inning. Berrios lasted only four innings and 97 pitches.
But Jake Cave’s sacrifice fly in the fifth and Polanco’s homer the next inning gave the Twins a chance.
Relievers Gabriel Moya and Taylor Rogers provided 3⅔ scoreless innings for the Twins. Reed got the last out of the eighth before the fateful ninth.
“Once we got back to even, we kind of stagnated a little bit,” Molitor said, “and couldn’t find a way to get that lead run across.”