KANSAS CITY -- Perhaps it’s inexperience, with too many young players pushed too far ahead of their development timelines. Perhaps it’s a team’s 22-year-old fifth-string center fielder trying to do too much in his first big league callup. Perhaps it’s just another manifestation of the funk that these Twins just seem unable to shake, no matter how hard they try.
Whatever the reason, there’s no way to truly explain the sequence that played out in a tie game during the seventh inning, when Gilberto Celestino cut in front of left fielder Trevor Larnach, had a routine fly ball bounce off his glove, and missed the cutoff man on his throw to the infield, with the whole sequence allowing the go-ahead run to score from second base.
Larnach raised his right hand in confusion as Celestino chased the ball before watching in silence with his hands on his knees. Reliever Hansel Robles threw up his arms and stared with his hands on his hips. And another miscue in a season full of untimely errors erased one of Josh Donaldson’s biggest games for the Twins in a 6-5 loss to the Royals on Thursday night at Kauffman Stadium.
“It’s not a play that anyone in baseball would look up and say, ‘That’s difficult in any way,’” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
That’s the kind of absurdity befitting of a scene that Donaldson might have crafted on an app on his phone following his last three-hit game, when he pasted Baldelli’s face onto funny scenes from the “Austin Powers” films and romped around the clubhouse giving many of his teammates the same treatment, a signal that he was “back” after a rough end to May.
Donaldson’s bat continued to roar to life in the series opener, when he smacked a double and two homers -- including a game-tying blast in the seventh -- for his first multi-homer game with Minnesota. His first blast traveled a projected 390 feet to left field in the first inning at 111.1 mph, his second-hardest homer of the season.
He added a fifth-inning double to the right-field wall before hitting a solo shot off reliever Jakob Junis in the seventh that knotted the game at 5. It marked his first multi-homer game since Aug. 25, 2019, when he hit two homers against the Mets during his season with the Braves.
Donaldson hit .119/.231/.143 in a 12-game span from May 18-30 before bouncing back with a pair of three-hit efforts in his last four games.
“He looked up and said, 'I'm back,'” Baldelli said of Donaldson’s three-hit game in Baltimore on Monday. “It's just a feeling. It's something only he's going to be able to know. But I think that's him showing us that he feels good stepping into the box. My God, I don't want to say completely single-handedly, but that was a heck of an offensive night all the way around.”
The Twins scored in four innings against the Royals, with three of those rallies fueled by Donaldson hits. Kansas City answered all four times -- with the final and decisive blow coming on the painful sequence in left-center field on a fly ball off the bat of Andrew Benintendi.
Led by four hard-hit balls (exit velocity of at least 95 mph) by Donaldson, the Twins actually made hard-hit contact on 14 of their 26 batted balls off Royals pitching. They outhit Kansas City, 10-9. Three relievers didn’t allow an earned run.
But Salvador Perez homered twice on pitches out of the strike zone, and once again, a critical -- and inexplicable -- error sank the Twins, who have now dropped three in a row and five of their last seven to fall to 22-34.
“This was a tough night the way that it all played out, because we did some things well, we had some guys have some good days at the plate, and obviously, we're not getting the outcomes we want,” Baldelli said.
The body language around the diamond in that seventh betrayed some frustration -- but with nobody to rely on but rookies in the outfield, the Twins will hope Celestino takes this as a learning experience and quickly moves on. They need it.
“I'm exhausted right now, and I pitched five innings and didn't have a particularly good game at all,” said J.A. Happ, who allowed five runs in five innings. “But I left it all out there. As long as everybody's doing that, that's all we can ask. Things happen and we've got to move on. We'll keep supporting everybody in here."