We’re to the part of the season now when the Twins, so often bereft of paths to victory, resort to playing a more competitive game of what-if instead. So while Friday’s 8-1 loss to the Red Sox was ultimately as lopsided as it sounds, a case could be made — and was, actually — that a small change to the night’s events, perhaps as subtle as 6 inches on a single pitch, could have altered the course of baseball history.
Or at least made the game a little closer.
On a night when the Twins honored David Ortiz for his illustrious career after he left Minnesota, Tyler Duffey twice pitched out of jams that were partly created by the defense behind him, and he appeared to be on the verge of a third escape in the fifth inning.
But after getting ahead of Xander Bogaerts with two runners on base, Duffey tried to zip a fastball in on Bogaerts’ hands. Instead, the pitch faded across the middle. Then it landed in the Red Sox bullpen.
“I knew what I was trying to do with it. I threw the pitch I wanted, [but] about 6 inches over the middle instead of in,” Duffey said. “It’s a different ballgame [if he doesn’t miss]. You can’t take it back, but sometimes one pitch makes a difference.”
One pitch was about all Steven Wright threw against Duffey on Friday, but it’s a pitch that most of the young Twins have rarely seen: a knuckleball.
“He sped it up, he slowed it down, he had it going in, he had it going out,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “If he throws a good one, it’s ‘Good luck.’ You hope you get a couple mistakes that float more than dive and dart, but we swung and missed a lot. That tells you it was moving.”
The loss was the eighth in 11 games for the Twins, who fell a season-worst 16 games out of first place in the AL Central. Even more gruesome: No Twins starter has been credited with a victory in June, and the entire starting staff has only eight this season — a number equaled or bettered by 11 major league pitchers.
Wright isn’t among them, but the Boston righthander drew close Friday by puzzling Twins hitters with his slow-motion pitches all night.
Wright (7-4) scattered seven hits and always seemed to worm his way out of trouble, four times by striking out Byung Ho Park (three) or Byron Buxton (once) with a knuckler to end an inning.
“I know [Park] doesn’t have any knuckleball experience. I asked him about Korea, and he said couple guys might have [toyed] with it, but he never saw a steady diet. so that was tough for him,” Molitor said. “You want him to face different people so he gets different looks.”
Twins fans are getting their last look at Ortiz this weekend, and the team honored their long-lost slugger before the game. Ortiz obliged by breezily jogging out a double on a ball that rolled to the wall, and he singled in the ninth, earning another nice ovation as he was replaced by a pinch runner. But as Ortiz noted before the game, even though he’s having a monster of a final season — leading the league in doubles, slugging and on-base percentage — he enjoys being on a team where young players carry much of the load.
“When you have more guys hitting the way everybody is hitting out here, it’s something that — the focus is not on me,” Ortiz said. “The pitcher has to focus on seven guys, more than just one. That’s not an easy thing to do, so I really appreciate the rest of the guys.”
They came through against Duffey (2-5). Bogaerts went 4-for-5 with four RBI, Christian Vazquez had two hits and an RBI, and Jackie Bradley Jr. doubled, tripled and drove in two.
Molitor said Duffey pitched much better than in his previous two starts, but he too was shaking his head over that one awful pitch. “If he gets that ball in on Bogaerts better, it could change the outlook of his outing,” Molitor said. “Unfortunately, you include every pitch, and that was a big one.”