Josh Donaldson’s tie-breaking homer had a profound impact on the Twins' game at one point, but the ejection that arrived soon after may have come with a bigger price.
Donaldson’s leadoff homer in the sixth inning off White Sox starter Reynaldo López on Thursday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field broke a tie, but the third baseman also had an exchange with home-plate umpire Dan Bellino less than a minute later, and he was run from the game.
That meant Donaldson wasn’t available to hit two innings later, when the Twins needed to make up a deficit. They wound up with a 4-3 loss, dropping the four-game series to the White Sox, 3-1.
The dustup started one pitch before Donaldson’s homer. He and Bellino exchanged words on a strike call, though the origin of the conversation was unclear -- either Donaldson was asking if the call was made because Bellino deemed it was indeed a strike, or if he was ruling that Donaldson had offered a check swing.
The exchange appeared to be mostly tame, though manager Rocco Baldelli did go out to talk to Bellino, to defuse the situation.
"I just wanted to communicate with Dan, and I wasn't exactly sure what was being said,” Baldelli said. “But I know Josh was frustrated with some things that happened throughout the game with different at-bats and some calls during the game. I just wanted to go out there and make sure we were all clear on what was going on. Dan is an easy guy to talk to behind the plate, so we chatted for a minute, and I was hoping that was the end of it.”
It wasn’t. Donaldson connected on the next pitch, but after he rounded the bases, he dragged his foot across home plate, bringing dirt with him.
Donaldson then went back to touch the plate, perhaps thinking he may have actually missed it the first time. At that point, Bellino was already motioning for the ejection. Donaldson kicked more dirt onto the plate before exiting the field.
“Josh’s emotions got the best of him, and his frustration did get the best of him,” Baldelli said. “Does he have gripes on some of those pitches? Yeah. But that is part of baseball and something we all have to adjust to, both players and staff and everybody involved, and the umpires do, too.”
Ehire Adrianza replaced Donaldson at third base, and was the leadoff hitter in the eighth after the White Sox regained the lead with two runs in the bottom of the seventh. Adrianza struck out on three pitches, and the next batter, Jorge Polanco, also struck out. The Twins produced two baserunners in the final two frames but were unable to push across a run.
"We rely on all of our guys,” Baldelli said. “We've been in many, many spots where we look to all of our players to get the job done. Was Josh's spot going to come around, most likely in an important spot? Yeah, that was certainly the case, and we knew that was probably the case, immediately after he left the ballgame. Frustration or emotion at that point doesn't really matter or affect us too much. We carry on. We keep playing.”
While undoubtedly frustrating, this loss didn’t diminish the Twins’ bigger-picture plans. Sure, a win would have clinched the season series over the White Sox, which would have allowed them to avoid possible tie-breaking headaches later involving October seeding. But that seems to be a relatively minor detail for now, and both the Twins and the White Sox -- who clinched a playoff spot with their win -- have positioned themselves well as they eye the postseason.
That understanding likely takes most of the sting out of losing this particular series.
“It was a good, tight series,” Baldelli said. “We got beat out there in this series, but there's really nothing we can do about it. We’ve got to look forward and move on and get ready for tomorrow and get ready to play.”