The Twins took dramatic action on Tuesday, trading for three upgrades to their pitching staff. They flaunted their new look on Wednesday, riding scoreless innings from Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez to a tight but encouraging victory.
And on Thursday, they reverted to the game plan that had made those upgrades so urgent. Guess how that went.
Sonny Gray allowed only one hit over five scoreless innings, but Emilio Pagan surrendered three runs, Trevor Megill three more, and Tyler Duffey three of his own. Toronto extended its history of Target Field domination, and exasperated a boisterous concert-night crowd, with a 9-3 victory over the Twins.
"To see the game go in the direction that it did, at the speed that it did, it's tough to take," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Yes, we added some good arms to our pen and I think we're going to see some really good production from our bullpen in these last two months of the season. I think our bullpen is going to end up being a strength of this team. We didn't see it all come together today."
Gray, meanwhile was hardly sharp, walking a season-high five hitters, but only once, when he loaded the bases with two outs, did he allow a runner to advance even to second base. But the Blue Jays couldn't make hard contact against the veteran righthander, either, and Gray took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, when ninth-place hitter Cavan Biggio lined a two-out single to center.
"I felt like I was just missing by that much all night," Gray said, holding his thumb and index finger a quarter-inch apart. "Maybe if I could have brought it into the zone a little more, I've got potential to go really deep into that game."\
Still, Gray held a one-run lead, thanks to Toronto starter Alek Manoah's fourth-inning wildness; after an infield single by Carlos Correa, Manoah walked the bases full, then hit Jose Miranda with a pitch on his left wrist to force in a run.
"I was pretty worried, because that was the second time in my career it has happened," Miranda said, citing a 2016 broken wrist in the Gulf Coast League. "It doesn't feel bad. It feels a little sore, but it could be worse."
The game was delayed while Miranda was examined, but he stayed in the game — and drove in the Twins' other run, too, in the sixth inning, following a Jorge Polanco walk and a Nick Gordon double with a groundout that scored Polanco.
Having thrown 96 pitches, one fewer than his season high, though, Gray's removal after five innings was inevitable. And if what came next wasn't inevitable, it was certainly familiar.
With Fulmer having thrown three times in the past six days, Baldelli bypassed his new weapon to face the American League's second-highest-scoring offense in favor of Pagan. The Twins' narrow 1-0 lead didn't survive for long.
With one out, Pagan worked two quick strikes on the low-and-outside corner against Blue Jays cleanup hitter Teoscar Hernandez, then tried to get him to chase three pitches just a little farther away. When that didn't work, Pagan left a 3-2 splitter in the middle of the plate, and Hernandez pounded it more than 400 feet into the second deck in left field.
Pagan is such an odd case, Baldelli said; his swing-and-miss rate with his splitter is among the highest in the league. But Thursday was the ninth game in which Pagan has allowed a home run this year, more than any other reliever in the game.
"Truthfully, it's a hard one to fathom, that the same guy has done both of those things this year. The swing-and-miss, the missed bats, again, are a really good sign for a pitcher. He's been a good major league reliever," Baldelli said. "EP is still going to play a meaningful role going forward, and he's going to pitch in tight games going forward."
Bo Bichette followed the home run with a double high off the right field wall, and he scored the go-ahead run on Lourdes Gurriel's single up the middle. An infield hit by Whit Merrifield, the runner safe when Luis Arraez couldn't hold on to Gio Urshela's one-hop throw, widened Toronto's lead.
Megill and Duffey combined for a six-run eighth inning that put the game out of reach and turned the huge crowd's attention to the country-music finale. Hits by Bichette, Gurriel and Merrifield — yes, again — off Megill knocked him out of the game, and two singles and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s line-drive home run off Duffey knocked the Twins out, too.
Toronto, which currently holds the final AL wild-card spot despite owning a better record than the first-place Twins, improved to 26-14 at Target Field, where the teams would meet for a three-game series in October if the standings stay the same.