Jim Souhan
See more of the story

The Twins' 2-1 loss to Cleveland on Sunday evoked three baseball memories.

No. 1: In the 1960s, Don Drysdale, at an event at the White House, was told that Dodgers teammate Sandy Koufax had pitched a shutout. "Oh yeah?" Drysdale asked. "Who won?"

No. 2: In 1995, Twins manager Tom Kelly occasionally batted light-hitting backup catcher Matt Merullo in the cleanup spot.

No. 3: In April 2022, Byron Buxton slid into second base in Boston and began pounding the ground in pain and frustration.

The significance of No. 1: Sunday, Twins starter Joe Ryan pitched a shutout until there were two outs in the seventh, when a walk and a double gave Cleveland the first run of the game. Ryan would get the loss despite performing as efficiently as any Twins pitcher this season, facing the minimum number of batters until issuing his only walk.

The significance of No. 2: On Sunday at Target Field, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, battling an abdominal ailment, chose as his cleanup hitter Max Kepler.

Kepler went 0-4 to lower his average to .192 and his OPS to .640 in what should have been a farewell appearance. At least we know he's not using steroids.

When Kelly used Merullo to bat cleanup, it felt like something between a cry for help and a roll of the dice. Baldelli, like Kelly, didn't have many options.

The significance of No. 3: On Sunday, Royce Lewis, like Buxton a former No. 1 overall pick with sublime talent, damaged himself just after getting his season started.

Lewis flipped over Cleveland first baseman Gabriel Arías in the eighth inning after Arías backed up to catch a bouncing throw. Lewis landed face-first and snapped his head back. After the game, he said he was sore and barely remembered the sequence of events.

Sixty games into the 2023 season, the Twins hold a 3½-game lead in the division. They should run away with the AL Central. As much could have been said last year.

At this point last season, the Twins led the Central by three games. Then their training room began filling with key players, and they collapsed.

They changed lead trainers this winter, yet they again are filling the training room with key players. Whatever they said publicly after the game, they have to be hoping that a talented player face-planting in a close loss was a random occurrence and not the latest in an almost unimaginable series of devastating moments.

"I'm fine," Lewis said after the game. "How are you?"

It was nice of him to ask, but none of the assembled writers have to be healthy enough to hit a 95-mile-per-hour fastball with a bat's thimble-sized sweet spot.

After the game, Buxton said he should return soon after missing 3 ½ games because of sore ribs, and Carlos Correa, dealing with plantar fasciitis, hit in the indoor cage.

Sunday, the Twins were without four of their six best hitters: Buxton, Correa, Alex Kirilloff and Joey Gallo, leaving them with little power and no depth. They had nine position players available, meaning they couldn't pinch-hit or pinch-run in the late innings of a close game.

Once healthy, the Twins could field this lineup: Jorge Polanco, Correa, Kirilloff, Buxton, Matt Wallner, Lewis, Gallo, Ryan Jeffers/Christian Vázquez and Michael A. Taylor/Willi Castro.

That group, combined with the Twins' starting pitching and All-Star closer, should be good enough to make the playoffs.

The question facing the franchise is: Will the Twins ever be healthy?

"It's fair to think about that," Baldelli said in response to a broader question about injuries. "It's not an easy thing to really answer, because then you're pondering bigger questions when you're answering those things.

"Is it easy when you know you're without four or five guys that would normally be in the lineup? Absolutely not. But this game isn't built ... around being in an ideal situation all the time."

Seeing your best young player writhing on the ground is hardly ideal. Sadly, it conforms to a familiar pattern.