Griffin Jax pointed to the sky, hoping to help the fielders behind him locate a fly ball off the bat of Royals designated hitter Jorge Soler in the fifth inning Saturday.
The ball hung in the air for a bit as it hovered over right field, but Gilberto Celestino -- whether he was playing too deep, got a late jump or didn’t have a good view of the ball high in the sky -- couldn’t get underneath it in time. As Jax watched the ball fall safely to the ground, he pounded his fist down on his leg and shouted in frustration.
“I'm trying to not let my emotions come out on the play, but I'm pretty competitive and fired up on the mound,” Jax said. “It seems that things are, when [it's] raining, it's pouring. Small things here and there. Just little bloop hits like that, that just sort of fall into place -- just -- it upset me and I shouldn't have let my emotions come out like that.”
That display by Jax felt symbolic of the frustration affecting the Twins as a whole. Minnesota blew an early lead for the second time in as many games to Kansas City, and the club took its fifth consecutive defeat as it limped to the end of the first half of the year in a 6-3 loss at Kauffman Stadium.
“It is what we saw. Coming up with some adjectives to really get into what it feels like -- it is hard,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We had to do more today in order to get this win.”
The frustrations didn’t lie solely on the mound however.
On the injury side, Josh Donaldson ended the first half of the year in nearly the exact way he started it. In a situation eerily similar to his first plate appearance on Opening Day, Donaldson hit a double in the third inning but came up limping into second base. Baldelli and trainer Michael Salazar came on the field to check on him, and he was then removed from the game with right hamstring tightness, just like he was on April 1.
Among various defensive moves in the bottom of the third, Luis Arraez replaced Donaldson at third, and Nick Gordon, who pinch-ran for Donaldson, went out to play center field. Those two would later play a key role in a fateful fourth inning.
Jax pitched three scoreless innings in his first big league start, but after the Twins went up 2-0 in the top of the fourth, the lead quickly evaporated in the bottom frame. The Royals answered with four runs, coming on four hits and two walks in the inning. In the fifth, Kansas City put the game on ice with two more runs that Minnesota ultimately couldn’t make up.
Arraez’s shift to third came into play with one out and a man on first. Royals second baseman Hanser Alberto laid down a bunt down the third-base line, and though Alberto may have beaten a good throw anyway, Arraez’s attempt sailed past first and allowed both runners to move into scoring position. On the next pitch from Jax, Kansas City third baseman Hunter Dozier hit a liner to center. Gordon ran in and slid for the ball, but it bounced past him instead and two runs scored.
Two batters later, left fielder Edward Olivares put the Royals ahead for good with a two-run shot to left.
“There are a lot of games you play that you win, and you may misplay a ball and you may have guys take an extra base on you. That does happen,” Baldelli said. “Rarely does it get thought of or talked about in the same way when you're struggling and when you're trying to find ways to win. It does feel like we're going to have to play very clean baseball to go out there and win, to give ourselves every chance.
“When we don't, it's certainly -- it's impossible to hide.”
With a 33-48 record halfway through the season, the Twins now have 48 losses at the 81-game mark for just the fourth time in the Wild Card era (since 1994). And with the trade deadline looming on July 30, it’s tough to imagine a second half with any less frustration on the field.
“We have to put some different components together,” Baldelli said. “We can’t just go out there and swing the bats pretty good on one particular night, or pitch pretty good on one particular night. We have to play good baseball. That’s going to be our focus going forward.”