Glen Perkins, a relief pitcher himself, instinctively stuck up for the relief pitcher.
“He wasn’t trying to walk the guy,” Perkins said, pleading the case for Ramon Troncoso. “Nobody wants to walk anybody.”
But Troncoso made one of the most elemental mistakes a pitcher can on Tuesday: In a critical situation, he walked the guy in front of Joe Mauer. With two outs in a tie game, he extended an inning by putting tough-to-walk Clete Thomas on base and let the Twins’ best hitter (Mauer) and the Twins’ hottest hitter (Ryan Doumit) come to the plate. And, well, even Perkins couldn’t defend Troncoso any further than that: “You saw how it worked out.”
Yep: Mauer single, Doumit double, Twins win. Well, once Perkins closed it out. The final score was 7-5, and the Twins, who got frequent help from the mistake-prone White Sox, could hardly believe the gift they got in the eighth.
“Nothing bigger than that eighth inning,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of Thomas’ contribution, only his second walk in his past 68 major-league plate appearances. “To take a walk, didn’t get too jumpy there. Drew a walk and got on with Joe coming up. That’s what you want, people on in front of him.”
The Twins, who jumped out to a 4-0 lead by batting around in the first inning — the first time they’ve done that all year — had given it all back by the bottom of the eighth, and the first two batters were quick outs for Troncoso in a 5-5 game. Up stepped Thomas, who’s worked out well as the Twins’ fill-in leadoff hitter, and this time he contributed merely by watching five pitches fly by, four of them balls.
At that point, it hit Doumit that he likely would get yet another chance to drive in a critical run, as he has so often lately: 18 RBI in his past 20 games. “Joe’s about automatic” in that situation, Doumit said. “When he comes up in a big situation, he’s going to get on base. I try not to do too much, hitting behind him, because I know when I’m hitting, he’s going to be on base.”
Sure enough, Mauer took two pitches high, then looped a liner into short left, well in front of Dayan Viciedo. That brought up Doumit, who got behind 1-2, but told himself: Keep it simple.
“The worst thing there is a strikeout. I just wanted to put the bat on the ball and put it in play somewhere,” he said. “I got a pitch up, that I could get extended on,” and he laced it to the wall in left-center. Two runs scored, and what would have been an embarrassing loss, blowing a big lead, was avoided.
Instead, Chicago had reason to be a little embarrassed, having run themselves out of a potential big inning with some bad baserunning; at one point, Alejandro De Aza rounded third base on an infield hit to Brian Dozier, who nailed him as he scrambled to get back. And fielding cost the White Sox, too; Thomas reached on a throwing error by Gordon Beckham, then scored on Mauer’s home run into the flower pots in left.
That was the start to the Twins’ big first inning, actually, a turnaround for the Twins considering they entered the day having allowed 64 first-inning runs and scoring only 29. Five hits scored four runs, and it might have been more, but Oswaldo Arcia was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a ball that never left the infield.
“Arcia, I don’t know what he was doing,” Gardenhire said with a shrug. “Maybe it was his haircut.”