It felt like the pennant race, the actual, genuine, we-might-make-it postseason push, arrived here Friday night. The Twins were confident, the fans were expectant, and tiebreaker possibilities were the topic of the day.
It took nine gloomy innings for 2016 to arrive.
Chris Young limited the Twins to one run on four lousy singles, Glen Perkins gave up a pair of run-scoring hits, and playoff fever was broken at Target Field when Kansas City walked away with a 3-1 victory that leaves the Twins staring at wild-card oblivion.
“I don’t like it, but all we can do is keep battling and see what happens,” Torii Hunter said after the Twins’ most deflating night of the season. “Best scenario is those guys lose two, we win two.”
That’s not the best scenario, that’s the only scenario left to the Twins now. The Angels and Astros both won Friday, leaving Houston with 85 victories, Los Angeles with 84 and the Twins with 83 and two games to play. Only a pair of Astros losses, at least one Angels setback, and two Twins wins over the defending American League champions will produce … merely a tie that will force at least one extra regular-season game.
Get those tickets now.
“You can feel it — it’s deflating for sure,” Twins manager Paul Molitor acknowledged. “We know what’s happened in the other games. We’ve got to find a way to rebound. … Now we need a lot more help.”
They got a lot of it Friday from Ervin Santana, who capped an often-brilliant half-season with a clutch seven innings. He gave up only four hits and stubbornly held on to a 1-1 tie into the eighth inning.
Trouble is, after all the buildup, all the glee over playing meaningful games on the season’s final weekend, the Twins’ high hopes ebbed away with a relative whimper. Their lineup managed only four hits against soft-tossing 6-10 righthander Chris Young, and none after three second-inning singles delivered their lone run. Young retired 15 of the final 17 hitters he faced.
“He threw a lot more sliders than fastballs. They were breaking downward, away, [and] you just couldn’t figure out what his slider was doing,” Hunter said. “He was changing speeds pretty well. He pitched a great game — I think he always does against us. He went out there and did his thing.”
Young, 36 and getting by with guile, hardly fits the profile of a season-stopper, but he has been terrific against the Twins all season. In two Target Field starts this year, the journeyman gave up five hits and one lousy run over 12⅔ innings.
When Alcides Escobar reached out and poked a single to right-center to open the eighth, Santana was done — and the real trouble started. Faced with a switch hitter followed by three lefthanded hitters coming up, Molitor called upon his own ace lefty: Perkins, unhittable in the first half and shaky for the past two months.
“With the matchups we had, Perkins having a little more experience, I thought he was the right choice,” Molitor said.
But Ben Zobrist walloped Perkins’ first pitch off the bullpen fence, scoring Escobar with the tiebreaking run. After Aaron Hicks made a running catch of an Eric Hosmer line drive, Mike Moustakas laced a single to right field that ricocheted off Hunter’s glove. The hit sent Zobrist to third; the error brought him in; and the runs proved deadly to the Twins’ postseason hopes.
And it was just the latest indignity to befall Perkins, whose season-opening streak of 28 consecutive saves seems so distant now. He has allowed runs to score in five of his nine September appearances, posting an 8.22 ERA in the month. Perkins, who typically is available to reporters after games, did not make himself available after this one.
“We’re all aware it’s not coming out there the same,” Molitor said. “When you’re pitching at lower velocity, location becomes more important, and execution.”
When you’re behind in the standings, too. Time is running out.