ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – What the past few days have reinforced is that no reliever is immune from grooving a fat pitch. Or blowing a save. Or being walked off against.
It was only Wednesday when Twins relievers were being slapped on the back for holding Cleveland to one run over 16 innings before the team figured out a way to beat the Indians in Puerto Rico. This weekend, Tampa Bay pulled off two walkoff victories while handing the Twins a series sweep, including Sunday’s gut-punching 8-6 loss when Carlos Gomez, of all people, hit a two-run homer in the ninth off Addison Reed, of all people.
The Twins led at some point of every game in the series but left Tropicana Field licking their wounds with their record back to .500 at 8-8. The Yankees and a four-game series in the Bronx await.
“I think we have enough leadership in [our clubhouse] that we will bounce back heading into a tough environment to play in for four days,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
Reed, who has been the best thing going among the Twins reliever pool, pitched a scoreless eighth — getting a double-play grounder to get out of the inning — before giving up a single to C.J. Cron to start the ninth. That brought up Gomez, the former Twins outfielder who has struggled in his first season with Tampa Bay. He was 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series at that point.
But Gomez obliterated Reed’s first-pitch fastball into the seats in left, ending the game and the series.
“I don’t think I could hit the middle more if I tried,” Reed said. “That ball was right down the middle, and he did what he was supposed to do with it.”
It was the first walkoff hit of Gomez’s 1,329-game career. Maybe that’s why he threw his arms in the air after making contact, then jumped, turned to the Rays bench and stuck his tongue out. Then he did a Ray Lewis-like war dance just before crossing home plate.
“Not even a single, walk, hit-by-pitch, nothing,” Gomez said. “Being the first time, I’m the right guy. I’m really happy to get this home run and keep myself going.”
The Twins trailed 2-0 after the first inning, as Phil Hughes struggled in his first start back after recovering from surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome. They came back to tie the score at 2-2, the first run coming on Eduardo Escobar’s second homer of the season.
The Twins grabbed a 3-2 lead in the sixth on Max Kepler’s RBI double, but the Rays responded with four runs in the bottom of the inning — the big blow a three-run homer by Adeiny Hechavarria, coming when Alan Busenitz didn’t get an 0-2 curveball down vs. the No. 9 hitter.
“You have to accept the consequences when it was probably the biggest hit of the game,” Molitor said.
The Twins scrambled back again, tying the score with a two-out, two-run single by Brian Dozier in the eighth. They were preparing for extra innings — until Gomez faced Reed.
Molitor had to use five relievers Sunday after Hughes lasted only 3 ⅓ innings. The manager admitted that he could use a long outing from righthander Jake Odorizzi, Monday’s scheduled starter vs. the Yankees.
And the Twins left for New York with no immediate plans of calling up fresh relievers. They appear ready to go with what they have. So all the relievers who struggled over the weekend at Tampa Bay will get a chance at redemption sometime this week.
New York: If you can redeem yourself there, you can redeem yourself anywhere.
“This is not going to do anything to our confidence,” said Reed, who gave up the fifth walkoff homer of his career. “I promise you that. It’s one of those things that happen. It’s going to happen. You just have to kind of forget about it and go to the next series.”