Saturday’s game was four pitches old when the Twins made the first move. Brian Dozier hustled six steps to his left, slid on the grass as he gloved Michael Bourn’s grounder, spun completely around and threw to first base blind, releasing the ball just before he hit the ground — and just in time to beat Bourn.
Their lineup has been inconsistent this year and their starting pitching so-so. But if defense is the difference between winning and losing, the Twins like their chances.
“We pride ourselves on defense,” manager-for-the-moment Terry Steinbach said after the Twins converted about a half-dozen stellar plays — and a couple of misplays by the Indians — into their fourth consecutive victory, 3-2 over Cleveland. “And tonight, it really benefitted us.”
It did Friday night, too, when the Twins scored two unearned runs to also beat the Indians 3-2. Saturday’s game was remarkably similar.
Clete Thomas made a diving catch to prevent a leadoff double, then later ranged far into the gap to run down another would-be extra-base hit. In the eighth inning, with the Twins clinging to their one-run lead, Ryan Doumit raced into the corner to play a carom off the right-field wall perfectly, then whirled and fired a strike to second base to easily erase Asdrubal Cabrera, who would have represented the tying run.
“I was hoping that would go foul. But when I saw it [land], I thought it was a for-sure double,” said setup man Casey Fien, spared a tense inning by the play. “Then Doumit makes that play like he’s been our regular outfielder all year — I mean, man, that’s why he’s a professional.”
And for the second night in a row, the Indians couldn’t match the Twins in the field when it mattered. After Jason Kipnis connected on a Kevin Correia fastball for a two-run homer in the sixth, the Twins responded right away. Joe Mauer walked and Justin Morneau singled, bringing Doumit to the plate. His chopper to third tempted Lonnie Chisenhall into trying to prevent Mauer from scoring, but his toss on the run sailed into the Twins dugout.
Chris Colabello followed with his first career RBI, on a 150-foot pop fly single down the right-field line, to tie the score, and one out later, the Indians defense let them down yet again. Thomas hit a double-play ball to second, but Kipnis dropped the ball and had to pick it up, giving Thomas time to beat the relay. Doumit scored on the play, and the Twins were on their way to their longest winning streak since May 27-30.
“One thing we’ve done all year is not give up,” said Steinbach, who was left in charge when manager Ron Gardenhire fell ill because of a stomach flu and left the dugout in the fifth inning. “There were a couple of plays that they didn’t make. … We went out there and took advantage of that.”
The defense bailed out Correia, whose night followed a familiar pattern: Pitch well for several innings, then ruin all the hard work with an ill-timed home run. Kipnis’ blast with Bourn on first — having the quick leadoff hitter on base made him speed up his windup and leave a pitch over the plate, Correia said — was a near-perfect match for the cannon-shot that the Rays’ Kelly Johnson hit in Tampa Bay on June 10, turning another potential victory into a loss.
Like a flashback to last week, right, Kevin?
“It was a flashback to like eight games,” said Correia (7-6), who earned his second victory since May. “I feel like if I’d ever stop doing that, I’d have 15 wins.”
Maybe he should leave everything to his defense.