'Tough to take': Unusual (and controversial) moments haunt Twins

May 18th, 2024

CLEVELAND -- Friday’s series opener between the Twins and Guardians had a good amount of the unusual and a fair amount more of the controversial toward the end of the game in the Twins’ minds, especially as it pertained to the strike zone, and that was what weighed most on Minnesota skipper Rocco Baldelli’s mind after a tough 3-2 loss at Progressive Field.

“That’s tough to take, and in one-run, very tight, low-scoring games, sometimes those things mean especially a lot,” Baldelli said. “Today, they ended up coming into play in a big way, unfortunately.”

But later in that stream of thought, Baldelli ceded the point that is, ultimately, more responsible for the Twins’ recent fate of four consecutive losses to the Yankees and Guardians: They can’t point fingers and complain more substantively about factors outside the clubhouse when their offense simply isn’t getting the job done, all but eliminating their margin for error.

Not even Twins closer Jhoan Duran is invincible, and though he made what he felt was a better-executed pitch to José Ramírez after getting squeezed on two pitches in the strike zone called balls to begin his at-bat, the Guardians star crushed a go-ahead homer to right field in the bottom of the eighth after the Twins had tied the game in the top of the frame.

That marked Duran’s first run allowed this season, and his first homer allowed since last Aug. 15, which came 23 appearances ago for him.

That stung for Baldelli after a clearly inaccurate strike-three call on Willi Castro had likely contributed to limiting the Twins’ rally to one run in the top of that eighth -- but ultimately, just as much responsibility lies with an offense that carried a 28-inning scoreless streak into the third inning of Friday’s game and has only plated three runs in four games.

“We’ve got to play better,” Baldelli said. “If we don’t want those things to affect the game, the things I was just referencing, we have to create some separation in the game and then those things don’t end up mattering that much.”

It wasn’t more of the mostly listless offense that floundered for eight innings against Yankees starter Clarke Schmidt on Thursday, and that was borne out by the process, for the most part, on Friday.

Though Guardians starter Triston McKenzie held Minnesota to one run on two hits in 6 2/3 innings, the Twins outdid the Guardians in expected batting average, .280 to .237, and out-walked them, 5-0. Two of their better-struck balls -- a liner to left-center to start the game by Edouard Julien that led to a spectacular diving catch by Tyler Freeman and a 111.1 mph liner by Trevor Larnach to open the fourth inning -- led to outs.

Do free passes and expected batting average win games? No. But to the Twins, it’s indicative of a process that was perhaps better than the outcome.

“When you're walking, that's a good sign,” Carlos Correa said. “Out of the gate, Julien hits that ball and it gets caught. It's just one of those stretches. Show up back tomorrow and keep doing more of the same and hopefully we end up with a win.”

In the little offense that did transcend the boundaries of the theoretical and make it into the real world, there was encouragement in how the deeply struggling Alex Kirilloff was the one who broke the scoreless innings streak with a solo shot in the third inning after he’d been 1-for-29 since his last homer on May 1.

When the Twins rallied to tie the game in the eighth around that inaccurate strikeout call to Castro, it was Kyle Farmer who came through as a pinch-hitter with two outs by lining a game-tying double to left-center, continuing a surge that has seen him go 8-for-24 (.333) in limited playing time since April 27 after he’d put up a .285 OPS through his first 20 games.

Another unusual call went against the Twins in the sixth, when an apparent groundout by Ramírez led to a five-minute replay review that determined Correa was in violation of the shift restrictions -- the first such call in baseball this season -- and though it didn’t hugely factor into the outcome, it didn’t help the sentiment on a night when the Twins felt not much else went their way.

“You can lose close games, but to have that many things go against you, especially late in the game and losing by a run, that’s rough,” Baldelli said.