BOSTON — The Twins headed for home Wednesday knowing they left the Red Sox in one wicked hitting slump.
Minnesota limited Boston to only five runs over three games, tying their fewest ever in a three-game Fenway Park series between the teams. And Kyle Gibson was particularly phenomenal in the series finale, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning, allowing only three balls to leave the infield and extending his scoreless-inning streak to 22 in a row, the third-longest stretch of pitching brilliance in Twins history.
So why were the Red Sox celebrating?
Oh, right. Papi.
David Ortiz, an invisible 1-for-10 in the series until his final at-bat, took one more opportunity to deliver a stomach punch to his former team. Ortiz tied the score with one swing in the 10th inning, Mike Napoli broke the tie three pitches later with a mammoth home run to straightaway center for a 2-1 Red Sox victory, and the Twins, who did little but put zeros on the Fenway Park scoreboard, left with one more: Zero wins.
Casey Fien, called upon to preserve a 1-0 lead with Glen Perkins sidelined by a bad back, left a two-strike cutter over the heart of the plate to Ortiz, who yanked it just inside the Pesky Pole, 302 feet from home plate, a ball that would have not been a home run in any other park. It’s Ortiz’s 20th career home run against his former team, fifth this year alone, and perhaps the most heartbreaking, giving how desperate the Twins, who lost for the fifth consecutive day, are for a pick-me-up.
Fien then got ahead of Napoli with two quick strikes but tried to waste a pitch, only to have it remain in the strike zone. Napoli launched it more than 400 feet, or about as far as the Twins’ stomachs dropped.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” Fien said in a silent Twins clubhouse. “When you’ve got a pitching staff that threw like that, and they ask me to come up big, to come out of it with the L [loss] — it’s not a good feeling.”
The Twins are getting used to it. They’ve lost five consecutive games, despite getting quality starts all three days in Boston. They gave up 17 hits altogether, no home runs until the final two hitters, and allowed one hit (in 14 chances) with runners in scoring position the entire series.
“You give up five runs total, and you lose three ballgames here in Boston,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, “which is amazing in itself.” Historic, too, because this series — 1-0, 2-1 and 2-1 — was straight out of the dead-ball era. Only in 1980 had the Twins had such pitching success in Boston’s quirky ballpark, and the Red Sox never had swept a three-game series with so little offense in their 114-year history.
Perhaps it’s best if the Twins focus on the fantastic pitching, for a couple of reasons: Their pitching wasn’t much good in the season’s first month, so this is heartening. “[If] our pitchers [keep] throwing like they are now,” outfielder Chris Parmelee said, “we’ll be a hell of a team.”
Maybe. But that other reason lingers: For all the fantastic pitching, none of it translated into victory because the Twins’ hitting was even worse. Minnesota may have held Boston to a .189 average for three days, but the Twins hit only .121 (11-for-91), and scored just twice in three games. That also ties their worst performance ever in Boston, equaling a three-game humbling in 1972.
With Gibson and Red Sox starter John Lackey (nine shutout innings) baffling hitters, it looked as if one run was going to be enough to pull out a win — and the Twins got that run. Parmelee, mired in a 4-for-44 downturn for the past month, shocked Red Sox closer Koji Uehara by pouncing on a high split-fingered fastball in the top of the 10th. It carried into the Boston bullpen, just out of reach of right fielder Brock Holt, and Parmelee was a hero.
For about five minutes.
“We got a run,” Fien said. “I need to do my job and get three outs right there.”