December 9, 2022

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Red-hot rookie Ryan deals in finale shutout

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KANSAS CITY — On July 22, 2021, the Twins traded the power of Nelson Cruz for the polish of Joe Ryan. So far, Minnesota is loving that swap.

It was Ryan to the rescue on Thursday as the young right-hander allowed just two hits over six innings and guided the Twins to a 1-0 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. After Kansas City had won the opening two games of the series in tight, low-scoring duels, it was Minnesota returning the favor.

Ryan set the tone, the bullpen did its job and center fielder Nick Gordon contributed the defensive play of the day with a perfect outfield assist that cut down Andrew Benintendi at the plate in the fourth inning.

“Nothing was that crisp [early], but the fastball command was there,” Ryan said. “I kept trying to find the slider that I had last week and I got it later. It’s just executing pitches and getting ahead. Yeah, I want strikeouts, but outs are the biggest thing and staying in the game as long as I can.”

The Minnesota pitchers generally have little margin for error these days, and that was the case for Ryan in the series finale. The Twins scratched out a run on Miguel Sano’s sacrifice fly in the second inning, but that lead was soon put in jeopardy when Benintendi made a bid to tie it up with a deep drive to right in the fourth.

When he saw the ball leave Benintendi’s bat, Ryan thought it was going over the fence. But the ball hit the wall and Benintendi had to settle for a one-out triple.

“The prevailing wind kind of helped me out,” Ryan said.

When Salvador Perez followed with a fly ball to center, Benintendi challenged the arm of Gordon, who delivered a throw that hopped up perfectly for catcher Ryan Jeffers to apply the tag.

Considering that the Twins have now scored three or fewer runs in nine of their 13 games, the significance of protecting a one-run lead — even as early as the fourth inning — was not lost on manager Rocco Baldelli.

“That’s a humongous moment,” Baldelli said. “We’re trying to hold them scoreless in a series where we’ve played hard in some tight games and we’re looking for a big moment. That was a really big moment for us. [Gordon] got behind the ball and made as good a throw as you could ever hope to see.”

On a day when Byron Buxton, who had been battling a sore right knee, returned to the lineup as the designated hitter and not the center fielder, the big defensive play was left to his replacement in Gordon.

When Gordon returned to the dugout, Buxton was there to offer a rousing round of congratulations.

“I think he was a little more excited than I was,” Gordon said.

Buxton was still excited about the Gordon throw as the Twins packed their gear for the trip home.

“Yeah, I was pumped,” Buxton said. “I said, ‘He’s going to be the new Superman.’ It just shows how much work he has put in. For him to make a throw like that to keep the game 1-0 … that was my highlight of the day.”

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