Cool thing about baseball is, there’s always another game. And there’s always another game of what-if, too. Few, of either version, will linger like this one.
What if Zack Littell, the most homer-averse member of the Twins bullpen, doesn’t suddenly surrender back-to-back moonshots? What if Nelson Cruz’s hot smash travels a few inches to the right, out of Matt Chapman’s diving grasp, and brings home an insurance run or two?
What if Mark Canha moves his back foot with two outs in the ninth, avoiding Taylor Rogers’ errant slider? And what if Khris Davis doesn’t swing so late at a 96-mile-per-hour Rogers fastball that he slices it the opposite way, where it deflects off the tip of Ehire Adrianza’s glove?
Of such excruciating circumstances come the most agonizing losses, as the Twins can attest after Saturday night’s sudden 5-4 setback to the Oakland Athletics. Of such losses come the most memorable pennant races, which is no consolation for the Twins.
“When you battle back, and you end up losing a game, yeah, sure, it’s definitely disappointing,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “To stand up here and say it’s not would be lying.”
Especially since the Twins held a 4-3 lead when word came that Cleveland had finally fallen to Earth, the Indians’ six-game winning streak ended by Kansas City 1-0.
When Rogers, all but unhittable for the past three weeks, took the mound to preserve it in the ninth inning, and then recorded two quick outs to bring the announced crowd of 32,270 at Target Field to its feet, it was easy to mentally add a game to the Twins’ AL Central lead, which had shrank in the previous six days from 7½ to three games.
Instead? The A’s strung together Canha’s fluky plunking; Ramon Laureano’s double into the left field corner that only moved Canha to third; and Davis’ late swing into an improbable rally.
“That’s part of the game. Rogers, he’s been doing a great job. Today, a couple of runs, but he’s been pitching really good,” said Miguel Sano, dutifully taking a swing at damage control. “We’re positive. We’re positive. Nobody here puts their head down.”
No, but until the final inning the game felt like a huge lift for the Twins, who fell to 1-4 on a nine-game homestand. Which makes Oakland’s rally — plus Mitch Garver’s game-ending double play, after the Twins loaded the bases with one out against Liam Hendriks in the bottom of the ninth — feel doubly caustic.
Just look at what went right: Jose Berrios’ control was haywire from the start, but he still put on a master class of pitching without your best stuff. Berrios put runners on base in all six of his innings, yet none scored.
The Twins blasted three tape-measure jobs, two in the first inning off Brett Anderson: Garver led off by slamming a pitch 410 feet, and two batters later, Nelson Cruz launched one 436. Anderson didn’t give up a hit over the next five innings, but Sano — hitting cleanup for the first time since Sept. 1 — led off the bottom of the seventh with a tying homer that went 443 feet.
That came after Littell — who had given up only one home run all season and no runs at all in his previous 11 innings, elevating his role in the bullpen — gave up back-to-back, two-out home runs to Canha and Laureano in the top of the inning. Canha hit a two-run shot 424 feet to tie the score 2-2, and Laureano followed with a go-ahead, 413-foot rocket.
And following Sano’s home run, the Twins continued to stage a go-ahead rally: C.J. Cron and Max Kepler hit one-out singles, and Jonathan Schoop provided a fly ball that traveled just far enough to allow pinch runner Adrianza to score the go-ahead run following an off-target throw by Oakland left fielder Robbie Grossman.
It felt like a party, even when third baseman Chapman’s eighth-inning dive on Cruz’s hot grounder with the bases loaded kept the Twins from adding to their lead. But fluky factors turned those feel-good moments into a painful loss in the next inning.
“If [Davis’] ball is 6 inches to the right, we’re not talking about this,” Rogers said with a shrug. “Round ball, round bat.”
So what do the Twins do now? “Nothing. It’s as plain as that, I guess,” Rogers said. “No reason to change anything.”