MINNEAPOLIS -- There was a 14th-inning stretch at Target Field on Thursday -- complete with a second rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” It was the second one in nine days.
Less than two weeks after claiming victory over the Red Sox in a 17-inning marathon, the Twins once again found themselves endlessly trading zeros with an opponent -- this time, the Rays. After a two-run frame from each team in the bottom of the first and top of the second, 31 scoreless half-innings followed as the teams remained tied into the 18th inning.
Well, now the Twins know what it feels like to be on the losing end of one of these wars of attrition.
• Box score
After the Twins again emptied their entire bullpen and even used Kyle Gibson, who started on Tuesday, for an inning of relief, Ryne Harper allowed three runs in the top of the 18th inning as the Twins finally fell, 5-2, in Thursday’s series finale -- a five-hour, 42-minute game that followed a 57-minute rain delay.
"It's remarkable,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It's a little bit unfortunate. It's a little bit beautiful. It's a little bit of everything. We saw both sides of it. When you play those games and you come out on top, there are few better feelings. And when you don't, it was a long day.
"It is pretty amazing that you can play two games like this. I've personally never seen anything like it firsthand."
The 18-inning contest was the longest game (by innings) in Target Field history, breaking the record that had been set in that other game nine days ago against Boston.
Harper, pitching for the third day in a row out of the bullpen in the 18th, loaded the bases with none out, and a sacrifice fly to shallow left field by Yandy Diaz gave the Rays the lead before RBI singles by Willy Adames and Ji-Man Choi plated two insurance runs for Tampa Bay. It marked only the third time this season that a Twins pitcher was asked to throw on three straight days.
After the game, Baldelli alluded to the fact that the Twins were trying to stay away from Harper because of his recent workload, even turning to Gibson in the 17th before finally turning to Harper as a last resort with the bullpen having been fully exhausted.
Pitching coach Wes Johnson asked Gibson to pitch an inning because it would have been Gibson’s day to throw a bullpen session anyway. Baldelli determined before Gibson’s outing that he would only lean on the starter for one inning.
“If we could have kept them out of it today -- if we didn't play 18 innings, they wouldn't have found their way in there, and obviously, neither would [Gibson],” Baldelli said. “But they were available, and therefore, basically everybody pitched.”
As unusual as the circumstances were, the Twins were at least able to stick with actual pitchers -- Baldelli said that Jonathan Schoop or C.J. Cron might have been on the mound if the game had gone on any longer.
Difficult as it is to stomach a loss after committing so much manpower to a single game, there were positive takeaways for Minnesota.
Luis Arraez had three hits and a full-extension diving grab in left field in the 15th while playing out of position, and the bullpen combined for seven no-hit innings from the 10th to the 17th frames, with Zack Littell, Mike Morin, Trevor May, Matt Magill and Gibson combining for six strikeouts and three walks in that span.
"I think a lot of guys enjoy that leverage opportunity and those chances, and it's got that extra adrenaline or whatever you want to call it added in,” said Tyler Duffey, who threw a scoreless eighth. “I think it brings out the true competitor in people, and it tells us that our staff as a whole is ready for opportunities. That's where we want to be.”
"There are positives that come out of this kind of game,” Baldelli said. “They're character-building games for sure. With any team, you look for your identity and the way that you're going to play the game. Our guys, they never quit. They just keep playing. They keep making plays. Do we win every game? No. Did we win tonight? No. But I think we're proud of the way we went about it."
Parker, Sano work through struggles, come through in key spot
Concern surrounding Miguel Sano’s pronounced strikeout issues after his late start to the season have followed him around throughout 2019, and Thursday afternoon saw another 0-for-7 afternoon from the slugger.
But the big third baseman still found a way to make a game-changing impact with a diving stop in the 10th inning to help Blake Parker escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam that preserved the tie early in extra innings.
“He'll go out there and make some very nice plays at third base,” Baldelli said. “He stayed locked in despite not having the success at the plate. He stayed locked in. He made plays all day. That's winning baseball. You're not always going to go out there and get two or three hits. When you make a contribution like that, it's very nice."
After the Rays’ offense had been held in check for most of the game by Martin Perez, Duffey and Taylor Rogers, they finally generated another scoring chance in the 10th against Parker, when they loaded the bases with none out on a leadoff walk and a pair of singles.
Parker had struggled with his feel for the splitter throughout the season, and despite the rally coming in a stretch during which he threw the splitter on nine of his 12 pitches, he still stuck with his bread-and-butter pitch to escape the jam. After inducing a popout on a cutter, he used the splitter to strike out Travis d’Arnaud before Sano’s diving play retired Tommy Pham to end the inning.
Perez dominates in bounceback outing
As he has done throughout the season, Perez generated plenty of soft contact while relying heavily on his cutter and changeup, and for the first time in a month, the results finally caught up. After having allowed at least four runs in five straight starts, the left-hander held the Rays to two runs and three hits in seven innings -- his fewest runs allowed since May 23.
Perez’s only walk of the game led to a stumble in the second inning, when a two-out RBI double by Michael Brosseau fell just out of the reach of interim left fielder Arraez and Guillermo Heredia followed with an RBI single down the right-field line.
That would be it for Tampa Bay’s offense while Perez was on the mound.
Perez didn’t allow a baserunner beyond the second inning and completed his outing by retiring 16 consecutive batters, with only four balls hit to the outfield in that stretch. His three hits allowed were the fewest since May 6, though hits hadn’t exactly been his biggest problem over the last month, when he never allowed more than six hits in a start.
"He gets on these runs where he's just so efficient and he's really doing whatever he wants,” Baldelli said. “We see those spurts that he goes on. He was basically there for most of the extent of the start today. It does feel like a long time ago.”
Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.