MINNEAPOLIS -- For the second day in a row, the Twins got a late, game-changing blast to swing the game. This time, they couldn’t take advantage.
For a while, it looked as if the Twins found another hero late in Sunday’s series finale against Oakland, when Andrelton Simmons clubbed a two-out, two-run, game-tying homer in the eighth inning to give Minnesota late life. But two big mistakes proved costly in Minnesota’s pursuit of needed positive momentum, capped by a Josh Donaldson error and run-scoring wild pitch in the ninth that paved the way for a 7-6 loss to the A’s at Target Field.
Instead of a series win over a first-place team to build on the energy of Miguel Sanó’s game-winning homer on Saturday ahead of a crucial series against the division-leading White Sox, the Twins dropped their ninth game of the last 11, dropping to an MLB-worst 13-25 and 10 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central.
“We do know that there’s not tons of room -- we don’t have a lot of leeway here to lose games that we have a good chance of winning,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
A good chance, indeed. According to win probability, the Twins had an 84.6 percent chance of claiming victory when they carried a 4-1 lead into the fifth inning, thanks to Max Kepler’s three-run homer in the second and sac fly in the third.
In the eighth, Simmons’ two-run homer off Jake Diekman briefly brought the Twins from a 12.3 percent chance of winning back up to a 52.5 percent chance, as the offense once again showed signs of renewed late fight.
“Those are the types of moments and times in the game where you need someone to just come up do something big -- a big moment against a good reliever when we have a guy on base,” Baldelli said.
But both times, execution got in the Twins’ way of victory.
Twins right-hander Kenta Maeda, pitching through groin tightness that necessitated treatment after the game, allowed a double and three straight singles to open the fifth before he was pulled with the Twins still leading, 4-2. Following Seth Brown’s RBI groundout, Tyler Duffey induced a rundown, with Elvis Andrus caught between third and home.
Rookie catcher Ben Rortvedt just had to run Andrus back to third for the out, but he threw the ball and couldn’t get out of the way quickly enough before Andrus induced contact with his elbow and drew an obstruction call that tied the game -- which Baldelli acknowledged was an example of Andrus being a “smart player.”
“Guys that know me, they get out of the way pretty fast,” Andrus said. “It’s usually a new guy in the league that doesn’t know that and he just stays there -- it’s pretty easy to get that one.”
Another run scored on Matt Chapman’s sacrifice fly, bringing home all three inherited runners without a hit. Twins relievers have allowed 68 percent of inherited runners to score this season, highest in the Majors by a wide margin.
With the game tied, 6-6, in the ninth, Ramón Laureano lined a solid single into left field, and Matt Olson hit a chopper to pitcher Taylor Rogers that could have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, Donaldson -- shifted over to the middle of the infield from third base -- couldn’t handle Rogers’ throw, moving Laureano to third.
One batter later, strike three to Matt Chapman went to the backstop, allowing Oakland to score the go-ahead run.
“Wanted to get a punchout of Chapman and try to get two outs and leave him stranded,” Rogers said. “We did that and it still didn't go right. Definitely frustrating when you put all that stuff together.”
There’s been a good amount of such frustration over the last few weeks, but there could have been a completely different vibe following this game with one or two differently executed plays -- especially considering the offense’s late punch in the last two games.
That’s what the Twins will hope to take forward from this, as they continue to hope they’re close to finally clicking.
“If you want to take the pessimistic approach or the [optimistic approach], it's however you want to look at it,” Rogers said. “Obviously, this clubhouse, we're probably going to take the positives out of that.”
“We've just got to be better,” Simmons said. “We've got to be more sound with our defense, especially. When it's not going good, you've got to make sure you're doing every little detail well."