5-run first inning costs López, Twins

September 17th, 2023

CHICAGO -- was looking to build off a career-high 14-strikeout outing in his last start.

But a rough first inning for López in the Twins’ 7-6 loss against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Saturday evening prevented that. The loss keeps Minnesota’s magic number at seven following the Guardians' 2-1 victory over the Rangers.

  • Games remaining (13): at CWS (1), at CIN (3), vs. LAA (3), vs. OAK (3), at COL (3)
  • Standings update: The Twins (78-71) hold a 7-game lead on the Guardians (71-78) for the AL Central title. Cleveland clinched the tiebreaker by winning the season series, 7-6. Minnesota is currently the third-best division winner, meaning it would host a best-of-three Wild Card Series vs. the final Wild Card entrant starting on Oct. 3.
  • Magic number: Remains at 7 (for AL Central)

“That first inning was just one of those where good pitches got hit for infield hits, broken-bat singles, and then bad pitches got hit for homers with people on base,” López said. “I had more opportunities to control that damage and I didn’t.”

It wasn’t the sharpest outing for López, who faced trouble right away in the first inning. He allowed a two-run homer to Eloy Jiménez on a fastball and a three-run homer to Gavin Sheets on a hanging curveball three batters later.

“Really just that 0-2 curveball [to Sheets],” López said on what he regrets most that inning. “Obviously, not where you want to throw that pitch. You want to get it below the zone and I didn’t. And that’s what’s going to happen when you face big league hitters, and you make mistakes in the zone."

That was just the sixth time that López gave up five-plus runs in 30 starts this season.

“They put good swings on the ball when there were people on base when they needed it,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.

It was good sign for the Twins that López managed to settle down soon after the first.

Following back-to-back singles by the White Sox to start the second inning, the right-hander then retired 11 of the 12 next batters he faced before his exit after the fifth inning.

“I liked the way that he continued to compete,” Baldelli said. “He was determined. He wanted to stay in the game. When I took him out, he was actually pitching probably the best he had pitched all day.”

He gave up five runs on eight hits with eight strikeouts across five innings on Saturday. After the first inning, López bounced back strongly and allowed just three hits (all singles, including two in the second) with six strikeouts over his final four innings.

“I think the main thing is just turning the page,” López said. “I’m sure you have heard the 'be a goldfish' thing. [You] just want to forget what happened, go out to the next inning, pretend it’s the first inning again, and don’t shy away from your plan.”

López and the bullpen managed to keep Minnesota in the game, and the offense threatened in the final two innings.

With the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth, the team managed to score four runs. Carlos Correa and Kyle Farmer brought in runs before Christian Vázquez, representing the tying run, popped out to end the eighth.

Then, in the ninth, Max Kepler struck out looking with runners on the corners with one out before Farmer coaxed a bases-loaded walk. However, Willi Castro popped out with the bases loaded to end the game, stranding the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second.

“I was impressed with the way that our guys just kept having good at-bats,” Baldelli said. “That’s all it really was. We made something happen. You’re starting those innings, we were down 7-1, and that’s a long way to come back. You need a lot of quality offense to get back into it and we did. We actually put that out there and just came up one run short.”

López was proud of the way he fought on Saturday. His goal was to go out there and just forget about everything that happened in the prior inning. He did that over the final four frames, and he’s hoping that will carry into his next start and beyond into the postseason.

“I had the opportunity to go out there and try to get a little better,” López said. “So, that’s good. That’s a silver lining today.”