Forgive the Twins, they’re still new to this. Magical turnaround seasons are supposed to be full of thrilling finishes, of standing ovations, of Gatorade baths.
On Tuesday, the Twins went to the trouble to set up all of that. But it got away.
Against the Mets’ 100 mph closer, after a game of frustration, and with their most exciting rookie on third base, the Twins had Target Field on its feet with Nelson Cruz at the plate. But Cruz popped up a 3-2 pith, and Minnesota left the bases loaded, walking away without the curtain call it wanted. The Mets won 3-2, thus trimming the Twins’ AL Central lead to five games, smallest it’s been since May 19.
“It was very fun to watch,” said Twins starter Michael Pineda, who said his heart was pumping through the Twins’ ninth-inning threat. “But we want to win. We want to win.”
They probably would have, but for some sloppy first-inning play that tagged Pineda with a couple of unearned runs. The righthander was nearly spotless otherwise, allowing only one Met past first base over the next five innings; unfortunately, that Met, shortstop Amed Rosario, scored on a two-out single by Michael Conforto.
The Twins, meanwhile, rode the up-and-down night of Jonathan Schoop. His two-out, first-inning boot of a Wilson Ramos ground ball allowed Conforto to score a run that shouldn’t have happened. “The error’s a mental error,” Schoop said. “I should have known that [the exceedingly slow] Ramos was hitting,” so he had plenty of time to make the play cleanly.
Schoop got the run back, though, in the third inning, blasting a Steven Matz changeup into the planters atop the right field wall, his 15th home run of the season. The Twins added another on a C.J. Cron double in the fourth, but New York took the lead for good in the fifth when Conforto sliced a two-out single, his third of four hits, down the left field line to score Rosario.
The Twins didn’t threaten much until one out in the ninth, when Schoop swung at an Edwin Diaz fastball and felt something pull in his ribs. Rocco Baldelli listened to his second baseman’s argument for staying in the game, but “any time a guy holds his side or grabs it in any way, the right thing to do is probably make sure he’s OK,” the manager said.
Off the bench came Luis Arraez, a rookie handed a tall task: Pick up Schoop’s 0-2 count and try to get on base. “It’s obviously extremely difficult, but the manager trusted me and gave me the chance,” Arraez said. “I just wanted to make the best of it.”
Somehow, he did. Arraez fouled off a couple of 98 mph heaters, laid off the ones that strayed out of the strike zone, and brought the crowd of 28,712 to its feet by drawing a walk.
When Mitch Garver followed with a solid single to left, the Twins had life. Jorge Polanco flied out, but Marwin Gonzalez beat out an infield chopper, loading the bases. That meant Cruz would face Diaz, his old Mariners teammate — whom he had never faced at the plate. That made it strange, Cruz said, “but you try to win, you know? Even if he’s your brother, you want to compete, do your best.”
Cruz did, working the count to 3-2 with the crowd roaring. He fouled off a 99 mph fastball and settled in for another. He got it: But he popped it up to foul ground. Third baseman Todd Frazier made a basket catch, and the balloon popped.
“It’s a very dramatic, very exciting moment, and he comes through in that moment a lot,” Baldelli said. “We just didn’t end up pulling it out but as far as drama, I mean, we all got it.”