MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians had Emmanuel Clase warming in the bullpen during the top of the 10th, as the offense tried to gain a lead before heading into the bottom half of the frame. Instead, Cleveland opted against putting Clase in the game.
Nick Wittgren had just escaped trouble during a dicey ninth inning, but acting manager DeMarlo Hale sent him back to the mound in the bottom of the 10th. Wittgren found himself in a bases-loaded jam and attempted to pull off another Houdini act by getting a double play to throw out the runners at third and home plate, but one pitch later, Jorge Polanco became the Twins’ hero with a walk-off double, handing Cleveland a 5-4 loss on Monday night at Target Field.
“Well if we got the lead, Clase would come in to close,” Hale said, when asked why Clase didn’t enter in the 10th. “I thought matchup-wise, [Wittgren] got some decent numbers against the guys he was facing. So I think [Miguel] Sanó is the one that had hit him pretty well. But that was it. We gotta close the game. They're gonna get the last at-bat.”
Wittgren had previously faced the majority of the Minnesota batters due up in the 10th, but the matchups were limited. Nick Gordon, who led off the frame with a single, had gone 1-for-1 against Wittgren in the past. Max Kepler, who drew a walk, had gone 0-for-2 with a walk against the righty previously. Rob Refsnyder had never faced Wittgren and grounded into the double play at third before Polanco, who had gone 1-for-2 against Wittgren entering the series opener, hit the winning double down the right-field line.
There wasn’t a tremendous amount of history to rely on, but Hale was confident sending Wittgren back to the mound for extra innings. The 30-year-old nearly caught a break when José Ramírez fielded a ground ball to his glove side, stepped on third base and threw across his body to catcher Austin Hedges, who applied the tag at the plate for a rare 5-2 double play.
“You're kind of in a tough spot but right-on-right, Witt got the ground ball, José made a good play, he stepped on third and Hedgey, head's up, was gonna tag,” Hale said. “We actually gave ourselves a chance to get out of that inning.”
The Indians had been fighting to avoid trouble the entire game and came up just short of doing it one more time. They had gotten used to receiving stellar starts from Cal Quantrill, who had pitched to a 1.25 ERA over his previous six starts, but a rare off night led to three runs on a season-high-tying eight hits.
“This is the worst I’ve felt in a couple months now,” said Quantrill, whose fourth and final strikeout was the 200th of his career. “But it’s part of the game. You’re not gonna have your A-game every day so, I thought we battled pretty good, worked with what we had. But definitely not one to write home about.”
Cleveland’s offense had its chances to gain a more substantial lead, but it came down to Wittgren to keep his team in the game. However, he hasn’t had the same success as he did the previous two seasons in those situations. Since the calendar flipped to August, Wittgren has already taken three losses and has totaled a career-high six losses.
But because Wittgren had given up just one run (unearned in extra innings) in his last 7 2/3 innings, Hale never second-guessed his decision to leave Clase in the bullpen.
“I thought Wittgren was pretty good,” Hale said. “He's been making some pitches. He's [gone] multi-innings the last couple times out, so I felt pretty good about that.”