The odds weren’t good. Danny Duffy had given up two runs in his previous 20 innings against the Twins this year. Jake Cave was hitting only .158 against lefthanded pitching. So when Cave came to the plate in the second inning Sunday, the bases loaded thanks to a couple of singles and a walk, nobody in Target Field could have expected what happened next.
“I’m thinking, just put a ball in play, try to get a run in,” the rookie outfielder said. “I’ve never had a grand slam before, even in the minors.”
He has now. Cave worked the count full, taking a low fastball that the Royals dugout believed might have been a strike, and then he unloaded on a 95-mile-per-hour fastball on the outer edge of the strike zone. The ball landed in the right field seats, and the Twins took a lead they would never relinquish, finally sweeping the Royals with a 6-5 victory.
“It surprised me a little,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He hasn’t played against lefties a lot, but he was battling. He took some tough pitches to get full, and he got a fastball that looked like it was in his wheelhouse.”
With the postseason race more distant by the day, Molitor is giving young players like Cave, and like lefthanded reliever Gabriel Moya, a chance to learn on the job, and it paid off Sunday. Moya snuffed a Kansas City threat for Ervin Santana in the fifth inning, then pitched a perfect sixth to earn his second career victory, the first coming Friday night.
“It’s exciting. I thank Molitor for trusting me to work it out,” Moya said. “I just attack. Attack the zone, trust my command.”
Ehire Adrianza and Robbie Grossman also drove in runs, and the bullpen managed to nurse the lead the rest of the day — though only just barely. Whit Merrifield closed the gap to one run with a seventh-inning home run, and the Royals put runners on second and third in both the eighth and ninth innings, but never could quite overcome the Twins’ early lead that Cave delivered.
Taylor Rogers struck out two in the seventh, and Trevor May whiffed Alcides Escobar with two runners, both of whom reached on Twins fielding mistakes, in scoring position. “He was fired up, and he should be,” Molitor said. “He dialed it up and got a huge strikeout for us.”
Then Fernando Rodney, despite giving up two singles and a walk, recorded his 24th save in 30 chances, though the best throw of the inning came from his catcher. After Merrifield led off with a single, Mitch Garver made a perfect throw to catch him stealing, a play that saved the guy with all the saves.
“That’s the great thing about catching — even when you don’t have a great offensive game, you can help the team win in many different ways,” said Garver, 0-for-4 on the day. “To be able to help those guys navigate their way through the line, and then throw a guy out in the ninth, that’s just as satisfying as going 2-for-4.”