For eight innings, the Twins pushed and pushed and pushed -- but couldn’t land a knockout blow. From the other dugout, the White Sox did the same.
Monday’s game lacked offensive fireworks and timely hits with runners in scoring position, but it more than made up for it with tension as two heavyweights of the American League dueled with division pride and a rekindled old rivalry on the line. It sure felt in many ways like a preview of the playoffs -- contested at-bats, high-leverage moments throughout.
The Twins had more than their share of opportunities, with a season-high 10 walks and 15 runners stranded. The White Sox finally made them pay. Adam Engel’s eighth-inning RBI single and Tim Anderson’s RBI double helped the South Siders take the first of a four-game series, 3-1, pushing the Twins to two games back of the division lead and snapping their three-game winning streak.
“We can use this series, really, as a precursor to what’s ahead of us in the playoffs and pick up the intensity,” Tyler Clippard said before the game. “How I’m kind of approaching it mentally is just, ‘Hey, approach this like a playoff series.’ I think that will help us moving forward.”
“We are fighting for that first spot in the division,” starting pitcher José Berríos added. “We are both great teams. We saw that tonight.”
The last time the Twins scored only one run while collecting at least 18 baserunners was on May 7, 1958, when the franchise was still the Washington Senators.
The Twins and White Sox were tied 1-1 for most of the game, but it hardly felt like a pitchers’ duel, with two hot offenses seemingly one hit away from breaking the game open but held in check by a pair of the most successful pitching staffs of 2020.
That is, until Taylor Rogers walked Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert to open the bottom of the eighth, and Engel took advantage by faking a bunt and driving a single through the infield. Anderson’s double to the left-field wall gave the Sox an insurance run and chased Rogers, who had walked only one batter all season before Monday.
“Rog went at them and attacked them with his fastball and breaking ball, and probably threw some pitches that were good pitches and were close,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But we weren't able to get where we needed to be. They're a good team. They have a good group that has good at-bats, and they're dangerous if you make mistakes.
“As a whole, our pitching staff did a good job limiting them and holding them to a point where we feel like we should be able to win the game.”
Berríos allowed six hits and only struck out two as he navigated traffic through five innings, while his counterpart, Dylan Cease, walked five as Minnesota’s leadoff hitter reached base in each of the first six innings. The Twins got leadoff doubles in the second and third -- nothing doing. They loaded the bases in the fifth and got only Jorge Polanco’s two-out, two-strike RBI single to show for it.
The tension only mounted as the game dragged into the late innings.
White Sox reliever Evan Marshall struck out Nelson Cruz, the Majors’ leader in slugging percentage and OPS, with the bases loaded in the sixth. Matt Wisler put a man on second with none out but escaped. Tyler Duffey allowed a double and a walk in the seventh but also wriggled out of the jam. The Twins loaded the bases in the eighth, but Cruz again grounded out before Chicago took the lead in the bottom of the frame.
“We had plenty of opportunities,” Baldelli said. “Our at-bats were actually pretty good. When we had the opportunities with the runners in scoring position, they probably weren’t as good. We just weren't able to get it done when there were guys out there waiting for a hit, but that’s going to happen. There’s nothing to that.”
The White Sox rose to the occasion in a way that the Twins couldn’t for one night. But Baldelli and the Twins instead saw all of the missed opportunities as uncharacteristic of their play. If they keep performing like this -- the patient at-bats, the strong pitching against one of the best lineups in the league -- the hits should fall more often than not.
“Our pitching and our defense, if they can do that against a team like this, we would expect to win a lot of ballgames,” Baldelli said. “Tonight, it just wasn't in the cards. But they're always going to make you work. It's never easy when you play against a good offense like this.”