Rocco Baldelli, the manager who cannot be flustered, the players' champion who would never utter a critical word, finally exploded on Thursday.
After the Twins fell to a statistically preposterous 0-7 in extra innings with a 4-3 loss to the Rangers, their manager was asked his opinion of the rule that places a runner on second base to start each inning after the ninth, and he went nuclear.
"I'm starting to sour on it," Baldelli said.
Hey, that's a rant for the Twins' eternal optimist.
But even Wile E. Coyote eventually gets tired of running headlong into brick walls, and Baldelli surely is well beyond weary of somehow staying cheerful after watching the Twins fail over and over in remarkably identical and predictable ways.
"We've had opportunities to win these games. We have to find a way to get it done. We haven't figured that out yet," said Baldelli, whose team is 11-8 in nine-inning games, and 0-11 when games end early (0-4 in seven-inning doubleheaders) or late. "It's almost unbelievable that seven times it's come up already this early in the season, and seven times we have not prevailed."
Four days after Mitch Garver declared that "we know we have to win pretty much every series between now and the All-Star break," the Twins went 1-3 against a Rangers team that arrived in last place and departed with new life. The Twins led midway through all four games of the series, but Texas outscored them 11-1 from the eighth inning on.
So the 8,760 in attendance for the Target Field matinee could be excused if they left a little early, because they knew what was coming. This time, a Tyler Duffy pitch bounced in the dirt, allowing courtesy runner Jonah Heim to move up to third base, and Willie Calhoun clubbed a visor-high pitch over Jorge Polanco's head and into right field to score him.
"Their guy puts a good swing on a ball that's over his head, and that's really the ballgame," Baldelli shrugged. "That's how fast it can happen."
Well, there was still the matter of the Twins' at-bats, but they were mere formality. Willians Astudillo, who sometimes goes weeks between strikeouts, whiffed at a fastball well off the plate. Josh Donaldson, known for his long at-bats, struck out in three pitches. And Miguel Sano, who had struck out three times already, put the ball in play, but Joey Gallo dove across the grass to snag his popup in shallow right field and keep the Twins scoreless in extras for the sixth time this year.
"We need a big hit. We need a big inning on the mound where someone goes out there and just shuts someone down," Baldelli said. "And we can do that."
Either that, or they need to keep games from reaching the 10th.
Michael Pineda pitched six strong innings, allowing two runs in the second inning but preventing any other Rangers from reaching third base in the other five. He departed with a 3-2 lead after throwing 87 pitches, but his lead survived only two more batters.
Hansel Robles centered a 3-1 fastball to ninth-place hitter Heim, who was hitting .105 at the time. It landed in the Texas bullpen, 408 feet away and just inches out of Byron Buxton's reach. (Buxton left the game in the 10th inning after the Twins said he strained his hip running out a ground ball.)
That's how close the Twins came, even though they could muster only three runs, one on Max Kepler's home run to lead off the first inning — the Twins' only extra-base hit of the day — and two more on an Astudillo single in the third. Their offense dried up as the game went along; they had just one hit over the final five innings.
That's how you end up in extras.
"I think a lot of people in baseball would love the opportunity to play an inning or two under normal rules," said Baldelli, whose bullpen owns a collective 1-10 record. "But if this is what we've got, this is what we've got, and we've got to deal with it. We've got to win."