The Twins closed a homestand with seven games against the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees. The A’s arrived last Thursday on a hot streak and they were followed Monday by the Yankees, the AL’s best team so far and bullies of the Twins in the 2000s to the tune of 94-44 in the regular season and 13-2 in the postseason.
There was considerable fear among Twins followers that the locals were ready to take a whuppin’ against these two clubs, following a pair of losses to the non-contending Mets that continued a stretch of mediocre play.
As it turned out, the Twins exchanged blows and comebacks in one of the zaniest seven games of a homestand in their 59 seasons in Minnesota.
The Twins opened against the A’s with Eddie Rosario’s three-run, pinch-hit home run, ended with an improbable comeback against closer Liam Hendriks on Sunday, and lost a couple in-between to split the four games with the A’s.
The Yankees showed up Monday looking for an immediate imposition of their dominance, and then Twins rookie Luis Arraez started a triple play on a bouncer to third by Edwin Encarnacion.
The Twins hit five home runs — two by the late-blooming wonder, Mitch Garver — and won the opener 8-6. And then came Tuesday, and a hitting brawl for the ages.
Former Twin Aaron Hicks smashed a two-run homer in the ninth to put the Yankees ahead 12-11, then saved a 14-12 win with a diving catch against Max Kepler in the 10th.
The game ended at 12:12 a.m. after 5 hours, 3 minutes.
There were those 5,000 walk-ups Wednesday night to check what this craziness was about. The Twins drew an announced crowd of 40,127, the largest since Opening Day 2016, to see the pitchers climb back in the meat grinder.
C.C. Sabathia went four innings as the Yanks’ starter Monday and Domingo German lasted 3⅔ Tuesday. The New York starters had been on a roll and manager Aaron Boone was asked about the contrast before Wednesday’s game.
“I would say that club over there is a lot of what goes into that,’’ he said. “They have a solid lineup and have had a good plan against our pitchers.’’
Lefthander J.A. Happ didn’t change that Wednesday, lasting only 3⅓ innings and allowing six runs as the Twins tried to come back from an early 9-3 deficit.
They didn’t get there. Encarnacion’s series started with the triple play and ended with his 17th home run as a Target Field opponent for the last run in the Yankees’ 10-7 victory.
Rocco Baldelli’s starters for the Twins had as little success as did Boone’s: Kyle Gibson went five innings, and Martin Perez and Jake Odorizzi went four. Odorizzi was hammered for nine runs as his ERA went from 3.18 to 3.84.
The Twins hit 12 home runs, scored 27 runs and won one out of three.
Baseball in 2019 has turned into starters not making it through a third time in the order, and a march of ever-changing relievers.
Lefty Devin Smeltzer came back for the second time, pitched five effective innings in relief of Odorizzi, and that got him sent back to Class AAA Rochester in favor of a fresh limb.
These seven games with Oakland and the Yankees were enthralling tests of will — wonderful for their dramatic turns, but a grind for every player involved for games averaging nearly 3½ hours for nine innings and requiring 5:03 to play 10.
Baldelli was asked about this before Wednesday’s game and said:
“When you play incredibly competitive series with talented teams, we talk about the emotion and energy, and it takes a lot out of both sides. But it’s not just the those things. The physical aspect of going out and playing those games is real. You mentioned the bullpen and the different ways you handle games. It’s not always easy. That’s why you end up seeing roster moves and teams finding ways to get [innings] coverage pitching-wise.
“You’ve seen all the teams we’ve played in these long and enduring games do the same thing. It’s really the only way to get by over the course of a long season — by making moves like that.’’
Bottom line: You can’t find eight or nine good pitchers, and the solution for that calls for carrying 13, leading many innocents to a slaughter.
And they found some veteran starters when they got there during this Yankees-Twins battle of endurance.