CLEVELAND – Maybe it was hubris, maybe greed, maybe it was just the sweet aftertaste of conquest. But you can’t blame the Twins for trying to turn a pennant race into a victory lap.
After sweeping a doubleheader with nothing but rookie starters and a platoon of bullpen arms, the Twins used the formula for a third game Sunday, and it nearly worked again. Oddly, it was when they turned to a veteran that the audacious plan fell apart.
Randy Dobnak pitched a career-high five innings, giving up only two runs, and the Twins appeared headed to an add-insult-to-injury sweep of the Indians. But when Dobnak departed, Kyle Gibson made a surprise relief appearance and surrendered a game-turning three-run homer to Roberto Perez, and the error-prone Twins dropped a sloppy 7-5 decision to Cleveland.
“I firmly believed, and I still do, that our best chance to win that game, with the guys we have available right now, was bringing Gibby into that spot,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Gibson’s second career relief outing. “Obviously it didn’t play out like that.”
There was an air of c’est la vie about the loss — a team-wide shrug, despite the blown lead and four costly errors. It would have been nice to sweep the series and kick off the clinching party a little sooner, but there were all kinds of little hints — Dobnak starting instead of the previously scheduled Jose Berrios, and giving Nelson Cruz, Mitch Garver, Max Kepler and, for awhile, Jorge Polanco the day off — that the Twins have begun to visualize a championship on the horizon.
They still left town with a 4½-game lead, after all, with nothing but the division’s bottom-dwellers left on the schedule, beginning with the White Sox at home on Monday. Even if the Twins win only half of their 10 games left against the Royals (seven games) and Tigers (three), teams headed for 100-loss seasons, and no other games, the Indians would need to go 9-3 simply to force a one-game playoff. So it was hard to feel like the weekend was anything but a rousing success.
“We’ve been playing great. It was a great series, it really was,” said Baldelli, who was still talking about Saturday’s victories after Sunday’s loss. “It was a tremendous job by our guys to come in yesterday. The resiliency, the effort we got from everyone, top to bottom, it was amazing.”
But back to Sunday, yet another session of home run roulette for the Twins. Miguel Sano homered once, Eddie Rosario twice, and LaMonte Wade Jr. crushed his first career homer into the seats in right-center off All-Star Game MVP Shane Bieber.
Rosario’s homers give him 31 on the season, and made the 2019 Twins the 13th team in major league history, and first since the 2009 Phillies, to have four 30-home run hitters. Sano has 29, so the Twins are on the verge of making even more history over the final two weeks.
“It’s awesome, but I’m waiting for one more guy,” Rosario said. “That’s the record in MLB — five guys hitting 30 homers. Awesome.”
Less awesome are Gibson’s recurring troubles — he has a 6.75 ERA in August and September. After Dobnak’s ground-ball festival kept the Indians in check and Wade’s two-run blast gave the Twins a 4-2 lead, Gibson, who volunteered his services before the game out of respect for the bullpen’s weekend workload, allowed the game to slip away.
Fernando Romero relieved Dobnak in the sixth and gave up a one-out double to Jason Kipnis, a walk to Franmil Reyes and a wild pitch that moved them up. After the first of second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s two errors enabled a run to score, Baldelli brought in Gibson. But his second pitch, a fastball to Perez low and inside, wound up in the center field seats, a three-run shot that revived an Indians team that was beginning to resemble AL Central roadkill.
“Unfortunately, I missed across the plate right in his nitro zone. He’s been swinging the bat really well and he didn’t miss it,” Gibson said. “That’s kind of been my bugaboo lately. Whenever I make a mistake, guys have been hitting it.”