CLEVELAND – The Twins’ biggest success story this season failed Saturday, while their most notable bust hit the jackpot.
Baseball’s like that sometimes.
The same pitches that made Kevin Correia a three-game winner in April suddenly were walloped, at least for an inning, and the balls hit at fielders for a month suddenly fell in. The sort of fastball that got by Aaron Hicks in a tortuous debut looked more hittable Saturday, and one of them ended up in the bleachers.
But none of those sudden reversals were as remarkable as the one pulled off by Indians rescue arm Scott Kazmir. The lefthander pitched six strong innings to lead Cleveland to a 7-3 victory over the Twins, their fourth loss in five games on their 10-game road trip.
“It’s just like we remember him,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of Kazmir, a two-time All-Star who was relegated by a series of arm injuries to pitching for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012. “His fastball was about 89-93 [miles per hour], he had a nice little breaking ball, and a cutter. He got a lot of pitches called [strikes] on the inside part of the plate.”
Correia had less success throwing strikes, particularly in the first inning, and falling behind the Indians’ hot hitters proved deadly. He went to a 3-1 count against No. 2 hitter Jason Kipnis and tried a fastball that landed over the fence about 390 feet away. Two batters later, Correia again fell behind 3-1 to Nick Swisher, and gambled on a cutter. That one came down more than 400 feet later.
“That was a good piece of hitting,” said Correia, who in four batters equaled the number of home runs he gave up in his five April starts. “It w asn’t a great pitch, but usually I’ve been getting some outs on that.”
The second inning was better — and worse.
“There wasn’t one ball hit hard” in the inning, but the Indians still scored two more, Gardenhire said. “It’s about finding the outfield grass and getting the balls through. It’s not about how hard you hit them, and they did that.”
They hit, or got hit. Correia bounced a cut fastball off Lonnie Chisenhall’s elbow on an 0-2 count, his first hit batter since last August, and it extended what might have been an easy inning. “I was getting on the side of [the pitch], and it just went sideways. If it was going down, it’s probably in off the plate, where I want it, or under his arms,” Correia said. “I could very easily have not given up a run in that inning.”
But with two outs, Ezequiel Carrera lined a single just over Pedro Florimon’s fingertips, and Michael Brantley followed with a popup to short left field. Florimon raced out but couldn’t get it, and Josh Willingham couldn’t get there in time, so a run scored. Then a ground ball rolled through the hole for another hit, and Correia had given up more runs in two innings than in any of his previous five starts.
He returned to form after that, retiring nine of the final 12 hitters he faced, but the game was lost in those first two innings. Especially with Kazmir, whose last major league victory came on Sept. 19, 2010 — “I can’t remember that long ago,” he joked afterward — limiting the Twins to two runs over six innings.
One of the runs came on Hicks’ first career home run, so it was a memorable day for both. But Kazmir probably enjoyed his change of fortune a lot more.