MINNEAPOLIS -- Taylor Rogers had been nearly automatic for the last month, and Saturday was shaping up to be another stress-free ninth inning for the Twins behind the lanky left-hander, who retired the first two batters in short order.
But for the second time in the game, the A’s flipped the script in the blink of an eye, turning two outs and empty bases into a 5-4 Twins defeat in the span of seven pitches. It was the Twins’ fifth defeat in their last six games, and the latest tough break in a line of close losses that have been magnified by the Indians’ recent hot stretch.
“Nobody is perfect, even though at times he seems to be for long stretches,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And that’s OK. We’re just going to continue to run him out there in the biggest of spots and watch him work.”
With two outs and the Twins holding a 4-3 lead, a first-pitch slider ran too far inside and clipped Mark Canha before Ramon Laureano followed with a double into the left-field corner. Khris Davis lined the very next pitch off the glove of first baseman Ehire Adrianza for a two-run, go-ahead single that didn’t even travel far enough to reach an outfielder.
“If that ball is six inches to the right, we're not talking about this,” Rogers said. "It is what it is. Just tried to get ahead. With runners on base, the first goal is to get ahead. You know, in [Liam Hendriks’] inning, the ball went to shortstop. Mine could've done the same thing. Round ball, round bat.”
Rogers hadn’t allowed a run since June 22, and over the course of seven scoreless appearances since, he had allowed only four hits in 10 2/3 innings with 14 strikeouts and no walks.
The Twins still had the opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, when a Max Kepler single, a Jonathan Schoop double and an intentional walk loaded the bases with one out against Oakland closer Hendriks, but Mitch Garver grounded into a double play to end the threat.
With that in mind, Saturday’s loss -- and the bad breaks associated with it -- represented one of the more taxing losses yet in a stretch full of challenging defeats and bad breaks.
They worked their way back from a late deficit on the back of a homer from the hot-hitting Miguel Sano, they got clutch hits in their go-ahead rally in the seventh inning and they put themselves in position to tie or win the game in the ninth despite Rogers’ struggles.
But the game came down to two of their better relievers, Rogers and Zack Littell, blowing leads and one of their best hitters, Garver, being unable to come through in a big spot. And as a result, the normally positive Baldelli publicly voiced some rare frustration after the game.
“More importantly, when you do battle back, and you end up losing a game, yeah, sure, it’s definitely disappointing,” Baldelli said. “To stand up here and say it’s not would be lying. That’s the disappointing part.”
With that said, the Twins still refuse to hit the panic button, even as the Indians have inched closer over the last several weeks and the breaks in several close games have gone to their opponents.
The way Baldelli has seen it, the Twins have still consistently put themselves in positions to win these games -- and sometimes, the hits just won’t fall. That’s just been happening more often as of late.
“Reacting to things is probably not the way to go,” Baldelli said. “We’ve had our guys pick us up in big spots. … Some of the circumstances -- again, hit-by-pitch, back foot, it is what it is. It’s going to happen every once in a while. But we’re going to continue to rely on our guys in those spots. And the consistency of the way we treat them is probably the most important thing.”
Rogers was on the receiving end of those tough breaks on Saturday night on that back-foot slider to Canha that ran too far inside and Davis’ hit that could have been a game-ending lineout. He, too, didn’t see any reason to change what has, more often than not, worked this season.
“Nothing different,” Rogers said. “It's as plain as that, I guess. No reason to change anything. The team showed good fight coming back. The team is not going to quit on us. No need to change anything.”
“We're positive,” Sano said. “We're positive. Nobody here puts their head down.”