HOUSTON – The Twins’ favorite sparring partner, more than capable of putting up a good fight but always ceding victory in the end, finally landed a knockout punch Wednesday.
Trevor Crowe lined a Brian Duensing fastball into left field in the ninth inning, and Houston, winless against only one of its new American League compatriots until that moment, walked off with a 6-5 victory that actually left both teams feeling pretty good.
“We just went 4-2 on a road trip through Texas and Houston — that’s not bad,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after his team rallied twice to tie the score but finally missed out on its first season-series sweep since 2007. “Sure, we’d have liked [to win] the one today, but any time you go 4-2, that’s not bad.”
No, and neither is the thrill of scoring a few runs for a change, even if it comes at the expense of the worst pitching staff in baseball. The Twins scored 24 runs in Minute Maid Park this week, more than they scored in their three previous series combined, more than any series this season except a four-game runs-fest at Fenway Park. And it wasn’t just hitting, it was clutch hitting, too — Minnesota fell behind in four of its six games against the Astros this year, and caught up every time.
Even in Wednesday’s loss, Minnesota rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie the score on Alex Presley’s first home run as a Twin, and once Houston retook a two-run lead, the Twins scored in the eighth and ninth innings — Ryan Doumit’s leadoff home run in the ninth was the most dramatic touch — to tie it up again. All three games this week were tied at some point in the ninth inning, with the Twins eventually pulling out all but Wednesday’s.
“Anytime you can get a sweep, it’s going to be a good thing,” Duensing said after giving up a single to Jonathan Villar, a sacrifice bunt to Jose Altuve, and the game-winner to Crowe, “but we weren’t quite able to do it today.”
Yes, the Astros have a payroll under $25 million and are on pace to lose 108 games, so playing such competitive games with a last-place team can be interpreted several ways. But the Twins left no doubt about how they feel after taking five of six against the Astros.
“We’re playing pretty good right now,” Gardenhire said. “We seem to like this place.”
Actually, they seem to like anywhere but home these days; the Twins are 15-11 since the All-Star break away from Target Field, and only 7-13 in their home park. That’s a problem, since only seven of their remaining 24 games are outside of Minnesota.
“Guys get frustrated at Target Field. We hit a lot of long fly balls there,” Gardenhire said. “I just think right now, we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves at home.”
Pressure wasn’t a problem Wednesday. Presley, who is off to a 7-for-18 start with his new team since being acquired for Justin Morneau on Saturday, waited out 12 close pitches, fouling off six in a row, in the third inning before belting a fastball from Jordan Lyles into the right-field seats.
“His fastball had some late run on it. I’ve been rung up on pitches that caught the edge at the last second, so I wasn’t going to let that happen that at-bat,” Presley said. “My intention wasn’t to hit a home run. It’s just something that happens.”
As is his .389 introduction to his new team. Can he believe how quickly he’s adapted?
“Yeah, I can, actually. I think I belong,” said the center fielder. “In the past, when I’ve gotten chances to play every day, I’ve produced.”