By mid-July, only two American League pitchers had thrown more innings without allowing a home run than Griffin Jax. Since then, though, the Twins' top setup reliever has given up five blasts — and they could hardly be more painful.
With two outs in the ninth inning, Jax left a 3-2 slider over the middle of the plate to Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, and it wound up in the third deck in left-center field. The titanic blast handed the Twins their fifth loss in six games against Tampa Bay this season, 5-4 at Target Field.
"That's what comes along with being a late-inning reliever," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "You have to live with those things and then pack them away, toss them in the trash, whatever, when you don't make the pitches you want."
Jax's trash bin is getting surprisingly crowded. Arozarena's homer, his first of September but 22nd this year, marked the fourth time in less than two months that Jax, who at 6-10 now leads the Twins in losses, has surrendered a home run that turned a Twins lead or a tie game into a loss. It was the only blemish on five otherwise shutout innings by the Twins' bullpen — on top of 4⅓ scoreless the previous night — and Baldelli lamented the damage done by one bad pitch.
"It's a pitch that, yeah, we would want the pitch back, not just because of the result. He made a lot of good pitches in that inning," Baldelli said. "That pitch was not executed well. Randy, he can handle an in-zone slider and we knew that, and after a lot of pitches, he ended up getting one that he could handle."
The Twins' biggest at-bat of the day, on the other hand, didn't end with one that Kyle Farmer could handle. Yet Farmer's fifth-inning strikeout arguably produced more runs than Arozarena's.
That's because it lasted 16 pitches, tying the longest plate appearance in Target Field history, coming against rookie starter Taj Bradley.
"It messed me up. That was a very tiring at-bat," said Farmer, who had homered, back-to-back with Matt Wallner, two innings earlier. "I started smiling at the end of it, hearing guys in the dugout, and the crowd getting into it. It's the first strikeout I've ever had where the crowd actually gave me a cheer."
On the 16th pitch, after fouling off 10 pitches, Farmer swung at a curveball below the strike zone and missed. But Bradley, who hadn't given up any runs except for the two solo homers, wasn't the same. He walked Edouard Julien and Jorge Polanco, and though he retired Royce Lewis on a comebacker, Rays manager Kevin Cash decided to remove him.
That turned out to be a mistake. Max Kepler greeted reliever Jake Diekman by lining a pitch into the right-field corner. Kepler's second triple in the past five days scored both runners and tied the game, earning him the RBIs — but Farmer got some of the credit.
"That was an incredible at-bat by Farm. He literally tired the guy out, physically [and] mentally," Baldelli said. "Yeah, he ended up striking out but then we get action. Bradley started to struggle finding the strike zone."
The Twins couldn't score again, though, and wound up eventually losing a battle of the bullpens. But Farmer said his team, whose magic number remained at 10 for clinching the AL Central, had made a point that resonated with a Tampa Bay team trying to win the AL East.
"You look at the Rangers and you look at the Rays, we hung in there with both of them. And they're probably saying the same thing about us," Farmer said. "We were in every game. That's a playoff team. They're really good. Good pitching staff, good lineup. I thought we matched up very well with them."