TORONTO – The Twins clubhouse is awash in blame. It’s knee-deep in there. During this breach-every-levee tsunami of a season, a year that plumbed new depths with Saturday’s mortifying 8-7 loss to the Blue Jays, culpability has splashed on every jersey in every locker in every corner of the room.
So who could blame the Twins, with all the disinfecting they have ahead of them, if they didn’t have the heart to parcel out any more blame on their least experienced rookie? Max Kepler made an overexuberant but ill-advised attempt at a diving catch of Melvin Upton Jr.’s sinking line drive in the eighth inning Saturday, enabling the ball to roll past him and Upton to circle the bases. Any hope of preventing Upton’s winning run, and the Twins’ ninth consecutive loss, was lost when Kepler caught up to the ball but kicked it away, his teammate Eddie Rosario throwing up his hands in disbelieving resignation.
“There’s all different kinds of ways to lose games,” manager Paul Molitor said. “That one was particularly difficult.”
Maybe so, but afterward, though Kepler tried to absorb the blame like a boxer struggling to keep his feet, nobody in that silent, blame-ridden, defeat-weary clubhouse would offer anything but support.
“He dove for it. I appreciate him selling out for it,” said Ryan Pressly, who gave up the seemingly routine single, then stood on the mound as it morphed into something far worse. “I mean, that’s just how things are going for us now. Fun, isn’t it?”
His sarcasm left no doubt about how little fun the Twins are having, not now that they have fallen 31 games below .500 for the first time since their wretched 99-loss 2011 season, not now that they have matched their season-opening 0-9 streak, not now that they have given up eight or more runs for five consecutive games. Kepler might have messed up, Molitor said, but it’s just another tree consumed by the forest fire.
“Sometimes we try to do too much, [but] sometimes we play a little tentative, try not to make a mistake, too. I’d rather have to back guys off than get them going,” Molitor said. “If a guy’s going to try to do something to help us win a game, I’m not going to be critical.”
No, but Kepler was. Kevin Pillar was on second base with one out at the time, waiting to score the tying run in a 7-6 game and complete Toronto’s rally from a 5-0 deficit. Kepler’s instinct was to do anything to prevent that, but he conceded afterward that sometimes instincts are wrong. Sometimes they cause plays that would be comical if they weren’t so painful.
“You see the ball, you think you have a chance to dive, you dive. All out,” said Kepler, whose dive came up about 3 feet short. “You take a risk. If you don’t take a risk, it’s going to fall in and the game [is tied]. So I’m going to try to make the best effort I can to catch the ball.
“Made a mistake. Made two mistakes. Made three mistakes. I take the blame.”
It’s a team game, though, and it was a team loss. Or perhaps it was simply a Blue Jays victory, because their offense is as relentless as the tide these days.
Ervin Santana, the Twins’ best hope at streak-stopping, pitched far better than his numbers, limiting Toronto to one run through five innings, until Toronto wore him down. Edwin Encarnacion clobbered a mistake beyond the center field wall in the sixth, and the Blue Jays knocked Santana out with a three-run seventh that included an epic 11-pitch Encarnacion-vs.-Pressly battle resulting in a line drive that third baseman Trevor Plouffe couldn’t quite corral.
The Twins piled up five runs by rocketing ground balls through the infield, and two more on Plouffe’s second homer in two days. But in the end, the Blue Jays’ win felt almost inevitable, and Kepler’s response philosophical.
“It’s baseball. It’s failure,” he said. “It’s 90 percent failure.”