Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
Three additional thoughts after the Twins' sixth walk-off loss of the season:
WE WON'T SPEAK OF IT AGAIN: I'm not particularly superstitious, but when Alex Gordon's home run cleared the right-field wall Tuesday night, I somehow felt responsible. Before the game, I was chatting with Glen Perkins, who is about as accessible and accommodating a player as I've ever covered. The topic? Blown saves. I brought up an odd statistic that I discovered over the weekend: The Twins were 8-7 during his career in games in which he was charged with a blown save. He said he noticed the same thing, that he had a tendency to leave games tied when he had a bad one, but not put his team behind. In fact, Perkins said, he had only given up one walk-off hit in his career, a home run by Brandon Inge in 2011. (I looked it up: Sept. 10 in Detroit, when Inge connected in a 2-2 game.) He was laughing at the fact that he didn't realize it was a walk-off at the time; he was about to ask for a ball from the umpire and noticed his teammates heading for the dugout. It was a nice anecdote that I filed away for later -- though not much later, as it turned out. As reporters walked up to his locker after the game, Perkins was telling somebody that it was my fault. Fortunately, he was just kidding. "That's baseball," he said.
THE PITCHER THEY EXPECTED: After all he's been through this summer, the elbow injury and probably the worst overall performance of his major-league career and a couple of rough starts since returning, I thought Ricky Nolasco might feel relieved about his seven shutout innings tonight. Even Ron Gardenhire called it the best outing he's seen from his Opening Day starter. But Nolasco said he's always made a point to be the same person in good times and bad, because "in this game, you know you're going to have ups and downs," he said. "Obviously, I haven't thrown the way I wanted to ... but everything happens for a reason. I take it all in stride." He might not be relieved, but it's a good bet that Gardenhire and the rest of the organization, which made Nolasco the highest-paid free agent in Twins history with a $49 million contract last winter, probably are. This was the pitcher they hoped they were getting.
FLU BUGS AND AN OLD FRIEND: Ron Gardenhire is suffering from the flu, and so are a lot of other people in the clubhouse, apparently. Nolasco said he was so sick on the mound, he almost asked out of the game in the third inning, but got stronger as he went on. It will be interesting to see if the lineup, which has been so steady this month -- the top four hitters in the Twins' lineup have been identical for the past 15 games -- gets shaken up tomorrow. On the other hand, Brian Dozier had the big hit tonight, a double that produced Minnesota's only run, Joe Mauer extended his road hitting streak to 10 games with a clutch RBI single, and the rookies just keep hitting -- a single apiece tonight, giving Danny Santana a 10-game hitting streak of his own. The Twins face a familiar face tomorrow: righthander Liam Hendriks, lost on waivers last December.
Twins prospect Byron Buxton, who missed most of the 2014 regular season with two separate wrist injuries and then a concussion in his first game after being promoted to Class AA New Britain, is on the tentative roster the Twins have supplied of players they hope will participate in the Arizona Fall League.
The Arizona League is a testing ground for prospects, and this fall will have 26 former first-round draft picks playing.
The Twins’ tentative roster for the Salt River Rafters includes three outfielders: Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario. Those three each played last year in the AFL. The Twins are also sending four pitchers: Jason Adam, Mason Melotakis and Taylor Rogers.
Meanwhile, in Kauffman Stadium, the Twins will try to tighten up the AL Central race by beating the Royals, something that hasn't been done much lately. K.C. lost a makeup game to the Yankees last night, the first time all month that it has lost back-to-back games. Danny Duffy, who limited the Twins to three runs, two of them earned, when he faced them 10 days ago, starts against Ricky Nolasco, whose last win came on July 1.
Here are the lineups for the first of three games in Kansas City:
Santana CF / Dozier 2B / Mauer 1B / Vargas DH / Arcia RF / Plouffe 3B / Suzuki C / Escobar SS / Schafer LF. Nolasco RHP
Dyson CF / A. Escobar SS / Gordon LF / Butler 1B / Perez C / Willingham DH / Moustakas 3B / Cain RF / Colon 2B. Duffy LHP
Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe and center fielder Danny Santana were named AL co-players of the week for the period ending Aug. 24. The only other Twins player to win a weekly honor this season was Chris Colabello, who won on April 7.
Plouffe batted .367 (11-for-30) for the week with five doubles, two homers, 10 RBI and six runs scored. Santana batted .378 (14-for-37) with two doubles, two triples, one homer, six RBI and seven runs scored. It was the first weekly honor for both players.
Plouffe has already established career highs this season in doubles (37), triples (two), RBI (65) and runs scored (57). Santana is tied for the AL rookie lead in triples (six), is third in runs scored (48), fifth in hits (93), tied for fifth in extra-base hits (29) and sixth in doubles (17) and RBI (34).
Four spare thoughts from a soggy Sunday afternoon:
THEY NEEDED MORE: As Max Scherzer's pitch count rose and rose, as he stood in the hot sun for 20 minutes or more at a time, it felt like it was only a matter of time before Scherzer would be gone and the Twins could feast on the Tigers' weary bullpen. That's what made Kyle Gibson's subpar outing so disappointing -- all they needed was for him to keep the game close and keep the Twins' own tired pen from being called upon. He couldn't do it, and was knocked out after getting 14 outs, his shortest start since July 4. Worst of all were the two walks he issued after Victor Martinez's impressive tie-breaking single. Gibson had thrown almost 40 fewer pitches than Scherzer at one point, but gave the advantage back and actually didn't go as deep into the game as the Tiger starter. The battle with Martinez was a classic, though; eight pitches, with the DH spoiling five of them to stay alive. But the game was there for the Twins, had Gibson given them just one or two more outs. (By the way, on paper, the series went about as expected: The Twins lost to Detroit's inexperienced starters, then lost to Justin Verlander and Scherzer. That overlooks how winnable both of the losses were, though.)
LEAVING THEM ON: The score was 7-3 in the sixth when the Twins' problems with runners in scoring position struck again. A hit batter, a walk and Danny Santana's single loaded the bases with one out, but the Twins were coincidentally sending up two of their worst hitters in that situation. Brian Dozier, is 1-for-8 with the bases loaded; he hit a fly ball to left that was too shallow to advance any runners. Then came Joe Mauer, who somewhat strangely is 1-for-7 this season with the bases loaded and two outs. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus brought in left-hander Phil Coke to face Mauer, and the count got to 3-2 before Coke fooled the Twins' first baseman. Expecting something that would break toward the dirt, Mauer instead got a high fastball that seemed to rise as it neared the plate. Mauer swung and missed at the 95-mph pitch, and the Twins' best chance was gone.
FLY BALLS AN ADVENTURE: I know Twins fans were spoiled by the consistent excellence of Denard Span and Ben Revere in the outfield, and Torii Hunter before them. It seems like there was a spectacular play at least once a series, and that's a lot to expect of outfielders. But it seems as though the Twins have gone through about as bad a stretch of outfielding as I can remember lately, with dropped fly balls, a consistent inability to catch balls at the fence, and the occasional terrible decision. Oswaldo Arcia was guilty of the latter on Sunday, choosing to make an awkward slide about 10 feet from where Torii Hunter's line drive came down. The slide allowed the ball to bounce past him to the wall, and turned a one-run single into a three-run triple. He's 23 and still learning, just as Danny Santana is 23 and playing center field for the first time; both should improve, and both provide enough offense to make it worth having them out there. But whew, there are times, and way too many of them lately, when you feel for the pitchers.
IS IT OVER YET? I heard plenty of grumbling about home plate umpire Eric Cooper and his strike zone, but it wasn't the umpire who made Sunday's game last an interminable four hours. The pace was just excruciating, and I was wondering in the sixth and seventh innings -- already more than three hours into the game -- how many fans had nodded off in the 85-degree, humid weather. This is the sort of game that loses fans, that convinces young people used to instant entertainment, to look elsewhere. I commend the 23,983 who witnessed the longest nine-inning game in Twins history, especially the 7,000 or so who were there at the end.
As if the upcoming week isn't hard enough -- the Twins have seven road games against first-place teams directly ahead -- they first must deal with Cy Young winner Max Scherzer today in the finale of a four-game series with Detroit. Minnesota has gone 4-6 on this 11-game homestand at Target Field, but the bats have come to life this weekend; the Twins have outscored the Tigers 38-18 in the first three games, winning two.
Scherzer is a different matter, of course, at least when he's at his best. He's thrown a quality start in nine of his last 11 outings, he's second in the league in strikeouts, he's won four straight games against the Twins, and in his last appearance at Target Field, he picked up the victory in the All-Star Game.
Kyle Gibson, who pitched seven shutout innings the last time he faced Detroit, will oppose Scherzer, and the righthander gets a bit of a break. Miguel Cabrera tweaked his right ankle during last night's game, and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has decided to give the two-time MVP an extra day off, to go with the one the Tigers get tomorrow.
The Twins' lineup is the same one that manager Ron Gardenhire has used, mostly, for the past two weeks.
V. Martinez DH
J.T. Martinez LF
A four-hour game and lots of storylines after the Twins' 20-6 win:
TIRED ARMS: The Tigers used seven actual pitchers on Friday, plus infielder Andrew Romine, while the Twins used six. That sets up a stressful weekend for both managers, who must find enough pitching to cover at least 27 more innings over a 28-hour span beginning at noon tomorrow. The Twins are in better shape than the Tigers, of course, considering their starter went deeper into the game, and no reliever threw more than 20 pitches. EVERY Tiger reliever threw at least 16 pitches, and two of them topped 30. Doesn't sound like a lot, but these days, that's enough to make a manager reluctant to call upon them. Tomorrow's doubleheader might include another big score, because if a game gets out of hand, both Brad Ausmus and Ron Gardenhire might be inclined to ask a pitcher (or position player) to keep pitching.
HAS ARCIA'S HOMER COME DOWN YET? It was a big night all around, considering this game tied the record for most runs ever scored in Target Field -- they beat Baltimore 19-7 on July 16, 2012, the only other 26-run game -- and the Twins became the first team ever to score 20 runs in this ballpark. But it was an especially big night for the youngsters in the Twins' lineup, a trio that went a combined 7-for-17 with two homers and seven RBIs. Kennys Vargas had a pair of doubles, Danny Santana homers and drove in four, and Oswaldo Arcia -- holy cow, did he put on a show. His second-inning double tied the score, and his eighth-inning home run was simply Thome-esque. It soared high above the playing field and initially appeared headed toward the parking deck behind the right-field stands. It finally came down and plunked the top of the State of Minnesota flagpole, the second time this week he's hit a pole. How is that possible? Arcia now has seven home runs and 20 RBIs in August. The franchise record for RBIs in August is 30 by Gary Gaetti in 1987. Arcia has another week to take aim at it.
SOMEBODY SAVE THE BALL FOR HIM: A couple of other amazing stats about tonight: The teams left a combined 22 runners on base. That floored me, as did the walks -- Detroit walked nine Twins, second only to the 12 free passes they received from Toronto on April 17, while the Twins walked only one Tiger, and that one was intentional. And with three walks and two hits, Jordan Schafer added 62 points to his on-base percentage, from .326 to .388. But perhaps my favorite part of the night came in the eighth inning, after infielder Andrew Romine, called upon as an emergency pitcher, allowed back-to-back homers, then somehow struck out Kurt Suzuki (who had no fun at all -- while the Twins collected 20 hits, he went 0-for-6). And as is automatic when a rookie records a first, it was accompanied by a press box announcement: "That's the first career strikeout for Romine." Broke us up.
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