MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have had to make do with a shorthanded bullpen for nearly a week after three relievers were designated for assignment ahead of the July 31 Trade Deadline and the relief corps was trimmed from eight to seven on Monday, before the start of the homestand.
It bit them on Sunday. But it wasn’t enough to sink the team in a dramatic comeback win.
Trevor May was asked to throw an uncharacteristic 49 pitches and allowed three late runs Sunday as the Twins’ bullpen coughed up the lead, but the offense snapped out of a funk in the ninth inning with a game-tying triple by Ehire Adrianza and a walk-off single from Max Kepler in the Twins’ 7-6 victory over the A’s. The victory secured a split of the four-game series at Target Field.
“This was a hard-fought game against a very good team, and we continued to just fight and never quit, and it’s pretty unbelievable,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “There were moments where the odds were probably against us and there wasn’t one moment where anybody in our dugout, on our team, our staff laid down at any point. Our guys continued to duke it out and ultimately got a tremendous win.”
With the A’s ahead, 6-5, entering the ninth, Luis Arraez clubbed a one-out, opposite-field single to left -- his third hit of the game -- before Adrianza tripled off the right-field wall to bring Arraez home with the equalizer. Jason Castro struck out, setting up a two-out opportunity for Kepler, who had already doubled and hit a three-run homer in the game.
“I heard the crowd behind me. It kind of gave me goosebumps for a second, and I could feel the emotions get ahold of me,” Kepler said. “And then I just took a deep breath and zoned in on the pitcher.”
Kepler capped a three-hit, four-RBI afternoon with a single into the left-field gap to complete the comeback off Oakland's All-Star closer Liam Hendriks.
“Tough guys who have kind of really had a good year or have been dominant at times, [Adrianza] has been their kryptonite,” May said. “We had the right guy in the right place. … [Kepler] did what he always does in the clutch. That was literally the perfect lineup, and it happened exactly the way we needed it to happen. I can't say how proud I am of those dudes identifying what they needed to do and getting the job done. It was awesome."
Even before they were trailing late, Sunday was always going to be an uphill battle for the Twins because of the state of their bullpen.
That’s because the Twins’ relief situation was already particularly scant entering Sunday, with only Harper, May and Kohl Stewart likely to be fully available, as Blake Parker, Tyler Duffey and Zack Littell had all been used both Friday and Saturday, while Taylor Rogers had taken the loss on Saturday.
“It was a day going into the game where we knew we were not going to be at full strength,” Baldelli said. “We knew we were going to push certain guys into spots and have them pitch more than they normally would. It was a game where we knew we would be challenged.”
That showed in the management of the Twins' skipper, who has erred on the side of caution with his starters’ pitch counts all season. He allowed Jose Berrios to go 113 pitches on Saturday and followed it up by leaving Michael Pineda in for 109 pitches on Sunday.
When May entered the game in the seventh inning with the Twins leading, 5-3, the idea in his mind was that he would need to pitch two innings.
“My plan was just to leave everything on the field,” May said. “And I can say I did that. To say it was a grind today for me, it would be an understatement."
May needed 21 pitches to complete the seventh and allowed a run to score on a walk, double and wild pitch, but he returned to the mound for the eighth nonetheless, where he labored but had to endure the Oakland rally. A one-out walk to Robbie Grossman was followed by a game-tying double by Chris Herrmann, a passed ball and a go-ahead sacrifice fly from Josh Phegley.
“I don't know if anyone could notice, but I was constantly stopping between pitches and saying, 'Dig down deep,’” May said. “I knew I wasn't as sharp as I had been recently. I was just going to have to find it. Find it somewhere. ‘You have to find some way to keep these guys from scoring.’”
He was eventually relieved by Zack Littell and Kohl Stewart. May had only been asked to pitch more than one inning in three of his 40 appearances entering Sunday. His 49 pitches were the most he had thrown in an outing since he was a starter in 2015.
Even with the taxed bullpen, the Twins have seven games remaining against the Yankees and White Sox before their next scheduled off-day. Littell was optioned to Triple-A Rochester despite his solid performance in the Majors, as he pitched for a third day in a row Sunday and the Twins simply need fresh arms at this point.
May was absolutely tired after the game and expects Monday to be a telling day for the condition of his arm after the Twins rode him through Sunday’s drawn-out affair. But because of the way the club shook off the rust -- even for one inning -- and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, he can’t wait to come back and get back to work.
“The timing of some of this stuff is incredible,” May said. “You can't write it. I got picked up. We got picked up today beyond anything I've ever seen. That's what's important, is getting the W at the end of the day.
“You've just got to find a way to do it,” he added. “And the way we get there is -- winning the way we won today, the taste in our mouth tomorrow morning is going to be really nice. And I don't want to say it erases things, but it puts us back in the winning mindset of feeling like, 'We've got this.'”