Paddack's gem, chaotic 9th nearly pull Twins from rough patch

May 19th, 2024

CLEVELAND -- These sorts of flat ruts in a baseball season often seem to end when some individual on the team steps up in a big way, or some spark comes out of nowhere to nudge the seemingly Sisyphean boulder that had kept rolling back on them to grind them back into the ground.

The Twins got both on Sunday: pitched the game of his life, and a hard-to-believe, miraculous botch of what would have been the game's final out at first base by Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase allowed Minnesota to tie the game with two outs in the ninth.

Then, the boulder lurched back -- with emphasis, for a 5-2 walk-off loss that secured a sweep at the hands of the first-place Guardians and extended Minnesota's losing streak to six.

"It can feel like you're underneath something and nothing that you do is going to get you out of it," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "There's a lot that we can do to get out of it and I want our guys to know that. We're very close. We're an at-bat or two away."

The Twins certainly seemed as close to breaking through as they had at any point amid this skid, which has spanned sweeps by the Yankees and Guardians. This is part of a firm U-turn from the Twins' top-of-the-world dominance, which they had exhibited in winning 17 of 20 games from the end of April into the start of May.

Will Brennan's three-run blast off Jhoan Duran in the bottom of the ninth stamped out whatever glimmer of a spark the Twins had found in an utterly chaotic final inning that involved two replay reviews, two pickles on the basepaths and a healthy dose of Byron Buxton's game-changing speed.

"It was crazy," Paddack said.

That frame was ultimately a microcosm of the Twins' up-and-down season. The game might have been over when Buxton, as a pinch-runner with two outs, raced Cleveland shortstop Brayan Rocchio to the second-base bag on a ground ball and was ruled barely safe after an extended review.

"I honestly thought he was throwing it to first," Buxton said. "Just, most people don't try to outrun me to a base, you know?"

The game might have been over again when Alex Kirilloff grounded a ball to first baseman Josh Naylor -- but Clase dropped the flip from Naylor as he covered first, and after a brief hesitation between third and home, Buxton drew the throw to third, raced home and tied the game.

Baldelli had talked all series about how it's tough for a team to find momentum when the offense is doing next to nothing -- and Cleveland had quite literally dropped the ball to hand them that momentum.

"I just told David Fry you could hear a pin drop in the park after that ninth inning," Brennan said. "Just a roller coaster."

With two on in the ninth -- and after another review on a nearly botched advance on a wild pitch to Andrés Giménez -- Duran wanted to go fastball on the first pitch to Brennan. He indicated it wasn't his decision to throw a curveball instead. Brennan barely scooted it over the right-field wall.

That brought the Twins back to square one -- perhaps, a step behind -- even after Paddack threw eight innings for the first time in his career, equipped with a simplified windup to his delivery following whispers of potential pitch-tipping in his last start against the Yankees earlier in this losing streak.

After a leadoff infield single and subsequent two-run blast by Giménez to begin the game, Paddack retired 24 of the final 25 hitters he faced in an efficient bounceback.

"I wanted to be a stopper today of this bad juju, and we're putting pressure on ourselves again like we kind of did early on in the season," Paddack said.

Baldelli's assertion that the Twins aren't far off is true. Last month, they saw how quickly a slump can turn into prolonged success. They lost a one-run game on Friday, and though Sunday was particularly painful, the Twins seemed to be doing well in maintaining the big-picture perspective following the game.

"It feels pretty bad right now, but it's not like we're that far away," Baldelli said. "You could be walking out of here with two wins this series. We didn't. We walked out of here with three straight losses and it just re-emphasizes the work that we need to do."