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.
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.
Ron Gardenhire will manage his 2,072nd regular-season game tonight, but isn't ready to discuss how many more there will be.
"Nothing's been talked about," the Twins' manager said of the 2015 season, which is covered by the two-year contract he signed last October. "I worry about that stuff when the season's over with."
A report in Sid Hartman's column in Friday's Star Tribune quoted general manager Terry Ryan as saying Gardenhire "is signed for next year, so you don't have to worry about him. ... Yeah, yeah, I would say he'll be back."
Gardenhire said he has not had a conversation about 2015 with Ryan. "I don't pay attention [to media coverage]. I don't worry about it," said Gardenhire, whose 13 seasons as Twins manager make him the second-longest tenured manager, behind Tom Kelly, in franchise history. "I talk to Terry Ryan about it, and we'll talk at the end of the year, as always."
Gardenhire enjoyed eight winning seasons and six AL Central championships in his first nine years as manager, but the Twins have lost 96 or more games for the past three year and appear headed to another sub-.500 season in 2014.
Does the 57-year-old manager want to return for a 14th season? "I'll talk about it at the end of the year," he said. "I'm not going to get into it."
With that, it's back to the on-the-field issues, with the first-place Tigers in town. Tommy Milone makes his third start as a Twin, after a two-inning disappointment in his Target Field debut on Sunday. "I'm sure he wants to get that taste out of his mouth," Gardenhire said of the left-handed starter. "He's anxious to get back on the mound and show what he can do."
Here are the lineups for tonight's 7:10 p.m. game:
V. Martinez DH
J.D. Martinez LF
It's been 17 straight innings without a run for the Twins, but it's worse than that -- it's been 17 straight innings without an extra-base hit, too. Not since Oswaldo Arcia smacked Trevor Bauer's first-inning changeup onto the plaza Tuesday night has a Twin managed more than a single, and there have been only 10 of those.
This isn't a scoring drought to rival Minnesota's trip to Fenway Park in June, when the Twins scored two runs in 28 innings, but it's close. It's more than a little disheartening, considering the Twins are relatively healthy again, and the top five in their lineup are pretty much the best they've got.
Worst of all? The Indians will start Corey Kluber in this afternoon's series finale, siccing baseball's hottest pitcher on its coldest lineup. Kluber has allowed two runs in August, has given up 20 hits total in his last five starts, and has surrendered more than two runs in a start only once since June 10.
Phil Hughes has the challenge of facing Kluber, so at least it's a reasonably fair fight on the mound. Hughes has been almost as good as Kluber this month, giving up just one run in each of his last three starts. The Twins will need his best today.
Here are the lineups for today's 12:10 start, which will not be televised in Minnesota:
A trio of leftovers after a letdown of a night for Trevor May:
CATCHER CAN HIT: Both of them came after the Royals already had a lead, but Erik Kratz hit a pair of home runs Monday, one off Andrew Swarzak and one off Ryan Pressly. The first one, a seventh-inning line drive, amazed bench coach Terry Steinback. "I tip my hat to him. [It was a] broken bat," Steinbach said. "I don't think I've ever seen that in my career." It was a pinch-hit home run; Kratz was replacing Salvador Perez, who tweaked his right knee while running the bases. The injury to KC's all-star catcher was the story of the night for the Royals, but it appears he'll be OK; the removal was mostly precautionary. Kratz wasn't done, though, launching a towering home run in the ninth inning. The backup catcher has a Twins' tie, too, sort of: He was traded to the Royals, along with ex-Twin Liam Hendriks, by the Blue Jays a few weeks ago for another ex-Twin, infielder Danny Valencia.
HOME RUN HITTERS: Maybe it was the language barrier, but Oswaldo Arcia seemed to think I was serious when I asked him if he was aiming for the flag pole in right field. No, he said, just hit it out there anywhere. OK, but it was still an impressive shot, clanging off the pole and ricocheting to the left. Trevor Plouffe hit a long one, too, in the ninth inning, a three-run shot that closed the gap to 6-4 and briefly offered Twins fans some hope. But Royals manager Ned Yost responded by calling on closer Greg Holland, and he only needed seven pitches to finish off the Twins. The Twins have now hit 19 home runs in August, and 12 in the past eight games. They haven't hit more than 22 home runs in any month this season, and they have 13 games left to pass that mark.
A PAIR OF ROOKIES? Saturday's doubleheader figures to feature an odd juxtaposition in the Twins' pitching staff, if Yohan Pino is recalled from Rochester as the 26th man. If the Twins stay on rotation, Pino would pitch one game, and the pitcher who took his job will pitch the other. Pino pitched seven shutout innings Monday against Syracuse, while May was working his way through the Royals' lineup, giving up three runs in the fifth inning. The Twins are committed to the 24-year-old righthander and helping him develop into a major-league winner, but it would nevertheless be awkward if Pino outpitches May on Saturday.
It's sunny and clear at Target Field, perfect baseball weather. If only it would stay that way.
But forecasts make it clear that rain is coming, perhaps before first pitch, which means it could be a long night at the ballpark. Tonight is the Royals' final visit to Minneapolis, so both teams will want to wait as long as possible if it means getting the game in. The Royals would rather arrive in Denver later than scheduled tonight, in other words, than be forced to sacrifice a September off day to fly back and play a makeup game.
The Twins' normal early batting practice, optional for most players, was made mandatory today, because earlier radar models suggested regular batting practice could be washed out, too. It wasn't, so the Twins cut the later session short by about 45 minutes, leaving the field empty when it's usually teeming with activity. The Royals will soon begin taking their round of BP.
An off-and-on night would be bad news for Trevor May, too, since he needs to demonstrate that he can pitch at this level, that his nerves won't prevent him from throwing his fastball where he wants it. A 12.46 ERA in two appearances makes tonight's start important if May wants to finish the season with the Twins.
He'll be opposed by left-hander Jason Vargas, a control pitcher with a 3.27 ERA who threw a three-hitter against the A's in his last start. Vargas will face a Twins' lineup with Kennys Vargas, no relation, in the cleanup spot, making tonight the first Vargas vs. Vargas matchup in major-league history.
Here are the lineups for, cross your fingers, tonight's 7:10 p.m. start:
HOUSTON -- The Twins' seven-day road trip (which somehow feels like double that) ends this afternoon with a fairly interesting pitching matchup between young players trying to establish themselves as consistent winners. Brett Oberholtzer, now 25, was a real find for Houston last season, putting up a 2.76 ERA in 13 games (10 starts) as a midseason callup.
This year started much rougher for the lefthander; he was 0-6 one week into May and lost his job. But the lefty has bounced back well, and the Astros have won his last five starts, all of them quality starts, including back-to-back wins over Oakland. He has a 2.91 ERA in those games, and has allowed more than three earned runs just once in his last nine outings.
On the other side is 26-year-old Kyle Gibson, whose up-and-down fortunes are well known to Twins fans. His control problems were fatal in last Friday's loss in Oakland, turning into five earned runs, but he's had eight starts where he didn't allow a run. He's making his first start ever in Minute Maid Park, while Olberholtzer is making his first start ever against the Twins.
Here are the lineups for today's getaway game:
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