CLEVELAND -- If the baseball gods have a cruel sense of irony, it showed at Progressive Field on Wednesday night.
An hour before the Twins carried a one-run lead over the Indians into an extended rain delay, the first reports arose that Craig Kimbrel, the crown jewel of the free-agent reliever class, had reportedly agreed to a three-year deal with the Cubs. As soon as the thunderstorms in the Cleveland area subsided, a Minnesota bullpen needing more back-end depth coughed up the lead.
Parker struggled with the command of all his pitches as he emerged from the one-hour, 43-minute delay and allowed a game-tying, two-run homer to Jordan Luplow followed by a two-out, go-ahead homer to Roberto Pérez a few batters later. After holding opponents scoreless in 16 of his first 18 outings this season, Parker has allowed multiple runs in three of his last four games.
“I’m going to go out and attack and be aggressive like I always am, but you can’t throw the ball in the heart of the plate and not expect the ball to get hit that hard,” Parker said. “It’s all my pitches getting hit, and not being able to locate on the black with the fastball.”
It was certainly bad timing for the Twins’ bullpen to give up the lead, both considering the opponent and Kimbrel’s reported agreement earlier in the evening.
But easy as it would be to pin the loss on the shoulders of a bullpen for which Twins fans have clamored for reinforcements since the offseason, consider also that outside of Parker’s recent struggles and one bad outing by Matt Magill, the bullpen’s problems haven’t been too pronounced.
And even with Kimbrel and his value off the table, the Twins still have nearly eight weeks to add to a roster that is already among the American League’s best, with many talented relievers likely to be available at the Trade Deadline. That’s not to mention the massive divisional lead in the AL Central.
All season long, the Twins have excelled at bouncing back from losses and playing clean games.
Thursday’s game initially looked like it was headed that way, too, only to end in frustration. But keeping perspective has been a strong point for the Twins in 2019, and that was again Perez’s message following the game.
“Two games does not mean a lot,” Perez said. We're still in first place, and we'll come tomorrow and do our job and play the game that we know how we can play."
A stat that mattered
454: Feet on Byron Buxton's three-run homer
Buxton’s mammoth blast that gave the Twins an early 4-1 lead in the second inning nearly traveled to the top of the left-field bleachers at Progressive Field and was projected by Statcast at 454 feet, the longest dinger of his career. The swat came on a 2-0 fastball by Indians reliever Tyler Olson and surpassed his previous career-long of 448 feet, hit off James Shields on Sept. 3, 2016.
“Oh my God,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I was hoping he’d blow his back out, he was swinging so hard. I was so happy we won, because I told Olson that if that scoreboard wouldn’t have been there, I would have picked up that ball on the way home. That was one of the longest home runs, golly. My goodness.”
“Yeah, he hit that ball very well,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He has that kind of raw power, and he’s got the ability to hit a ball a long, long way to the pull side. He does a lot of really impressive things, and we get to see different things every day from him. It’s fun.”