A tale of two plays costs Twins a series win

April 7th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- set the tone early with his first career leadoff homer and budding ace pitched another gem, but the Phillies found the timely hit that eluded the Twins all afternoon. Rhys Hoskins’ go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth sunk the Twins, who dropped the series to the Phillies in a 2-1 defeat at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon.

But as the narrow margin would indicate, it was a well-pitched, competitive game between Berrios and Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin, and casting aside Friday night’s sloppy, rain-drenched affair as an anomaly, the Twins leave Philadelphia encouraged by the quality of the baseball they played against a star-studded Phillies team in a hostile road environment on Saturday and Sunday.

“We kept up just fine,” Kepler said. “Things did not go our way -- it went their way. … I think we put together great games, a great series. The first one slipped away. We can keep up with that team."

"When you play good teams, you're going to have to battle throughout,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That's what this was. That's what this whole series was. Our guys gave really good efforts out there and actually, I thought, performed well. Just a hair not well enough tonight, but I was happy with what I saw."

The Twins outhit the Phillies, 7-4, but they couldn’t bring those runners around, finishing the game 1-for-10 with men on base. Even so, Minnesota pitched well enough that the game -- and series -- turned on the Phillies narrowly out-executing the Twins on a pair of pivotal plays. Here’s a closer look at those two moments:

1. Andrew McCutchen throws out Marwin Gonzalez

The Twins’ lone hit of the afternoon with a runner on base came in the fourth inning, when Gonzalez singled and advanced to second before Ehire Adrianza hit a line drive to left that fell in front of McCutchen.

The ball wasn’t hit too hard -- it left Adrianza’s bat at 90.7 mph -- and after seeing McCutchen take several steps to field the ball, third-base coach Tony Diaz waved Gonzalez home. McCutchen uncorked a perfect one-hop throw at 86.2 mph to home plate, where catcher J.T. Realmuto was waiting to apply the tag on Gonzalez.

At that point, the Twins had only scattered four singles off Eflin following the Kepler home run to lead off the game, and even in hindsight, Baldelli remained pleased with Diaz’s decision to send Gonzalez to the plate.

"That's obviously a huge play, and I think that's a good send by [Diaz],” Baldelli said. “That's a chance that we're going to take and we want to take. McCutchen just made a very nice play and a good tag at home plate."

Though the Twins didn’t score the insurance run that could have made a difference in the closely contested game, it ultimately took a perfect throw from McCutchen and a well-executed tag from Realmuto for the play to go Philadelphia’s way.

“It was really, truly a bang-bang play where everyone does everything right and we just happened to be out,” Baldelli said.

2. Hoskins homers on well-executed curveball

Berrios made his third consecutive quality start on Sunday against a Phillies lineup that had averaged 7.8 runs per game entering the series. The 24-year-old right-hander struck out seven and walked three in six innings as he became the first starting pitcher this season to last more than five innings against the Phillies. He allowed only one hit in the first five frames.

The second hit he allowed, though, was the decisive two-run homer by Hoskins at the end of a nine-pitch at-bat in the sixth.

Berrios threw a career-high 51 curveballs among his 98 pitches on Sunday, as the plan was to pitch backwards against an aggressive Philadelphia lineup. Berrios said the goal was to attack Hoskins with fastballs inside and curveballs outside, but he did point out that earlier in the at-bat, two of his curveballs drifted inside, and Hoskins fouled them both off.

"I missed a few in the previous pitches before that,” Hoskins said.

Berrios hit his spot on his ninth pitch with a curveball that darted low and outside. Hoskins just won the battle, depositing the ball barely out of reach of a leaping Byron Buxton.

“Hoskins, he's good with that lean out front, off-balance flick, something you don't see a lot,” Kepler said.

“Jose made a nice pitch,” Baldelli said. “[Hoskins] put it over the fence. That's really it."

A quote that mattered:

“I actually thought Buxton caught it. That's kind of what Buxton does, flying all over the place, super good athlete. I saw him stick his foot in the wall and get his glove above the fence. I thought, 'Oh my god, did he just make that play?' But it was too far out of his reach and we had the lead.” -- Hoskins, on Buxton’s leaping attempt at the wall on his homer

A stat that mattered:

3: Consecutive games with a homer for Kepler, a feat he accomplished for the first time in his career. His first-inning homer on a hanging fastball by Eflin traveled 407 feet. He also homered off Nick Pivetta and Jake Arrieta earlier in the series.