They had faced each other so often, Ervin Santana knew what to expect when Ichiro Suzuki stepped into the batter’s box in the seventh inning of a tie game Thursday night.
“He makes it look so easy. He’s got so much confidence,” Santana said two days before their game-at-stake matchup in Target Field. “He doesn’t try to do too much, he just tries to put the bat on the ball. And he’s very good at it.”
Against Santana, there’s hardly anyone any better at it, actually. So it was no surprise at all Thursday when Suzuki did it again: He waited for a fastball, then served a looping line drive into right-center field, bringing home the go-ahead run from second and triggering an avalanche of Miami offense. The Marlins ended up with a seven-run inning and eventually, a 10-3 rout of the Twins, avoiding an embarrassing sweep.
Things got a little embarrassing for the Twins, actually, after that big hit, and they got a little frightening, too. The tie score — frustrating enough since the Twins had materially aided the Marlins’ first- and second-inning runs — quickly turned into one of the more lopsided losses of the home team’s 41 this year when Miami collected six consecutive hits. And the Twins also lost Oswaldo Arcia to a bruised foot, and Phil Hughes to a line drive off his left knee, a ball that left him hobbling off the field with the help of a trainer.
“Ervin battled and hung in there. But we didn’t do much early off their guy,” manager Paul Molitor said of Miami starter Tom Koehler. Still, after managing only one hit through the first 5⅔ innings, the Twins suddenly rallied for two runs, thanks to three two-out hits in the sixth inning, the last a ringing two-out double by Robbie Grossman. And then?
“We couldn’t contain, they put up a big number, and that was pretty much the ballgame,” Molitor shrugged.
Should have seen it coming, probably, given Suzuki’s decade-long mastery of Santana. No opponent has collected more hits off Santana than Suzuki’s 32, and only three pitchers have surrendered more to the future Hall of Famer. So when J.T. Realmuto and Adeiny Hechavarria knocked one-out singles in the seventh, Molitor sent pitching coach Eric Rassmussen to the mound to caution him about how to proceed.
“I thought Ervin was pitching well enough to get us off the field. [The mound conference] was more about how to get Ichiro out,” Molitor said. “Unfortunately, [Santana] got behind and had to throw a fastball to him, which we didn’t want to do.”
Sure enough, Santana left that 2-1 fastball near the middle of the plate, and the 42-year-old hitting master was practically running to first base before swinging at the pitch. He punched it for career hit No. 2,973, and his seventh of the three-game series.
“He was just waiting for one pitch,” Santana said, “and he don’t miss.”
And as if that single wasn’t disastrous enough, what followed left the Twins gasping for air. Trevor May first threw a wild pitch, his seventh of the season, that allowed Hechavarria to score. Then he faced three batters, gave up two doubles and a single, and was removed.
Taylor Rogers relieved him and, after striking out Giancarlo Stanton (the slugger’s fourth whiff of the night), he surrendered a line drive into the right field seats to pinch hitter Chris Johnson for a 9-2 Miami lead.
“Trevor threw some good pitches, but they obviously were kind of locked in,” Molitor said. “It happened fast.”