One ugly loss in what remains the meat of a 162-game baseball season is not worthy of an overreaction. But two against teams that entered the contests a combined 54 games under .500?
Throw in the fact both featured a meltdown from a newly acquired fixer of the bullpen and an epidemic of angst among Twins followers would be permitted.
On Thursday, the Twins were frolicking with a three-run lead entering the bottom of the ninth against the punchless Marlins (41-65 at game time). Sam Dyson, fewer than 24 hours removed from being acquired from San Francisco, faced four batters, didn’t get an out, allowed three runs and the Twins lost to the Flailin’ Fish in 12 innings.
On Friday, the Twins returned home after eight days on the road, to the scene of the carnage of pitchers that took place in a three-game series vs. the Yankees. The Twins scored 27 runs, gave up 30, and lost two of three.
Now, the opposition was Kansas City, four seasons removed from a World Series championship, and now buried with a 40-70 record.
Nelson Cruz hit a Scud missile for a two-run home run in the bottom of the first to give the Twins a 2-1 lead. Cruz boomed an RBI double to deep right-center to give the Twins a 5-5 tie in fifth. Cruz hit a two-run double to the same place to give the Twins an 8-6 lead in the seventh, and it became a five-run lead.
Enter Dyson. Redemption turned to nightmare.
He gave up four hits — admittedly, one a broken-bat hopper toward third, another a six-hopper up the middle — but it was 11-8 by the time manager Rocco Baldelli signaled for Sergio Romo to get the last out, and then three more in the ninth.
Romo got those four outs on 25 pitches, giving up one hit (driving in a third run off Dyson) and retaining a 0.00 ERA in three appearances since being acquired from Miami.
Thus, the Angst Train was halted, although not completely. Postgame, it sounded as if there’s a strong chance Byron Buxton will be returning to the injured list for the third time since the middle of June.
Buxton banged his left arm and shoulder into the fence at Marlins Park in the second inning on Thursday, stayed in the game, but reported soreness on Friday afternoon. The Twins decided to scratch him from the lineup a half-hour before the game.
The last time Buxton was out of the lineup, from July 14 through July 24, the Twins went 3-7 and the fielding in general was close to frightful.
Imagine the frayed nerves for Twins’ hard-cores if Kansas City’s Dyson-fueled comeback had continued, a loss to the Royals had followed the loss to the Marlins, and then it became known Buxton was going to be gone again.
Thanks to a pair of noble veterans, this did not occur. First, there was Cruz providing two extra-base hits that put the Twins in a lead, and another that provided a tie. And then there was Romo — sliders, more sliders, and his first Twins save.
Cruz, 6-2 and 230 pounds-plus, is 39 and first established himself in the big leagues in 2006. Romo is 36, two inches shorter than his listed 5-11, and gained a place in the big leagues in 2008.
Have you faced Romo, Cruz was asked?
“Yes, and I don’t want to,’’ he said.
You know what you’re getting … sliders.
“I still don’t want to,’’ Cruz said.
The public outcry the Twins were not bold enough at the trading deadline reached a point that suggestions were made the modest action might have a negative impact in the clubhouse.
Meantime, the players are said already to be under the spell of Romo, the little man with a big personality and ready to take the ball on all occasions. And Cruz, well — there was that summer weekend when Harmon Killebrew hit the two longest Met Stadium home runs of his career, but that might be the last time we Minnesota lifers have seen a Twins slugger hit the ball as hard for a spell as Cruz has over his last eight starts.
Three doubles, eight home runs, 18 RBI, and all of those extra-base hits absolutely scorched.
Once again Friday, pregame, Baldelli received what’s now the traditional question about Cruz’s “leadership’’ for players such as Miguel Sano.
You want leadership? Cruz has 27 home runs, another 19 doubles, and 71 RBI in 301 at-bats. That’s all the leadership needed for a 39-year-old No. 3 hitter.