MINNEAPOLIS — In desperate need of any runs to avoid squandering yet another sterling effort from a starting pitcher, the Twins chose… utter chaos (with some help from the White Sox infield).
Chicago infielders made two errant throws on one play in the bottom of the eighth, gifting the Twins a pair of runs on a ground ball to deep short that swung the outcome of an eventual 2-1 Minnesota victory on Friday night at Target Field. The ending wasn’t without drama, either, as Emilio Pagán loaded the bases before finally slamming the door with a called strike three on a full count.
It was the farthest thing from clean or pretty — but at this point, this team will take it.
“We’ve had a few games that kind of felt like this, where you’re really grinding things out and trying to stay determined as far as what you need to do,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But when you carry on like that and it works in your favor and things turn a little bit — we had some things maybe go our way, but we also had to do some things to kind of force that action.”
A listless offense that entered the game tied for the fourth-fewest hits in the American League had been held to one run in the previous 29 innings entering the bottom of the eighth. The first two hitters went down with little fanfare before Ryan Jeffers cracked a two-out double and Luis Arraez drew a walk, bringing to the plate Carlos Correa, who had several hard-hit balls but nothing to show for it as he looked to break out of his season-opening slump.
Correa was familiar with White Sox reliever Kendall Graveman, as the two had been Astros teammates last season. Once Graveman missed with the slider for ball one, Correa figured the sinker would be coming, down and in. He guessed right — and swung.
“I felt like I put a pretty good swing on it,” Correa said. “If the pitch was a little higher, I would have probably gotten it more in the air.”
Instead, the ball went to shortstop, where Tim Anderson ranged to his right. Then… chaos.
Anderson jumped and threw — but the ball missed his target, caroming away from José Abreu toward the White Sox dugout. Jeffers crossed the plate.
“I thought Anderson was throwing to second, so I turned my head,” said Pagán, who was warming in the bullpen. “Then I heard somebody yell something and I turned around, and the ball was down the right-field line.”
Correa had missed first base, so he retreated to the bag while Abreu chased the ball into foul territory. Luis Arraez pulled up at third base. But then, Abreu spun and threw home — and his throw, too, missed its mark, allowing Arraez to scamper to the plate.
It had been raining for much of the day in Minneapolis, leaving the grass slick, and that was on Correa’s mind as he sprinted to first base. That’s what he figures caused the issues.
“That’s a tough play because of the field conditions,” Correa explained. “When you get that ball, even though it bounces in the dirt first, it’s a tough throw from back there. The ball’s wet and muddy. It’s hard to get a grip.”
“Wet conditions, but no excuse,” Anderson said. “For the most part, [I was] trying to get a good grip to be able to make a good throw. But that didn’t happen.”
That play sure lifted the dugout — and it clearly lifted the clubhouse, where music by “The Grateful Dead” blasted after the Twins’ tribute night. They’ve been playing these sorts of close games all season but have too often seen them go into the loss column — whether from a lack of offense, a bullpen collapse or some combination of both. They’ve felt so close as they’ve often said.
Could the tide be turning?
The offense found something — admittedly, a gift — but, as Baldelli said, they forced the issue and made it happen. Tyler Duffey, who blew two leads, pitched a clean eighth. The bullpen teetered on the precipice of another disaster, but Pagán perfectly spotted a 94.5 mph fastball to rein it all in.
“I feel like we’ve been in a lot of games just like this, and we were waiting for some of the stuff to go our way,” said starter Bailey Ober, who struck out six over five innings.
It rather overtly — and suddenly — did so on Friday, giving them two hard-earned wins in a row. It’ll be on them to build on it.