New York – It’s annoying enough for Twins manager Paul Molitor when his pitchers immediately give back any lead they are given. But now his fielders are doing the same.
The Twins twice took a lead Friday, and both times it disappeared before the Twins could record three outs. Once the Yankees grabbed the lead, however, they locked it up in a bullpen vise and eventually handed the Twins a 5-3 loss at Yankee Stadium.
“There has been a concerning pattern of allowing the other team to come back and score. We call them shutdown innings,” Molitor groused. “I suppose it’s like anything, it can go in trends. But it seem like this year in particular, we’ve had trouble getting off the field after we score. It really does change the course of how games go.”
It’s changed three games in a row, in fact; Friday’s loss was the Twins’ third game in a row in which they took a lead and immediately gave it right back. But this time starter Tommy Milone had plenty of help from his defense. The Twins committed three errors, and two of them resulted in three unearned runs.
Let’s contrast that oh-excuse-me habit of givebacks to New York’s guard-dog regard for a lead. Once the Yankees went in front in the fourth inning, their pitchers never let another baserunner reach second, and they retired the Twins’ final 11 batters in order.
And Aroldis Chapman, who surrendered back-to-back home runs to Eduardo Escobar and Kurt Suzuki last week at Target Field? The Twins might have angered the wrong man, because Chapman might never give them another pitch to hit. Escobar swung at three pitches, all of them 102 miles per hour; Byung Ho Park went down just as fast — a couple of his reached 103 — and Suzuki only managed to foul a couple pitches off before succumbing. “Moral victory,” Molitor joked.
“I don’t know if Chapman had last week in mind,” he said of Chapman’s 11-strikes-in-11-pitches perfection, “but he wasn’t going to let anything happen tonight, you cold tell.”
Milone, making his first major league start since April 25, wasn’t sharp, giving up six hits and walking two, but his problems were compounded by a couple of misplays.
After the Twins scored a pair of third-inning runs, Escobar booted Kevin Romine’s routine grounder to open the bottom of the inning. Milone recorded two quick outs that should have ended the inning, but the Yankees took advantage of their extra out. Carlos Beltran slugged a double to score the first run, and Alex Rodriguez followed with a sharp single that brought Beltran home.
The Twins shrugged it off by scoring again in the fourth inning, and like clockwork, the lead lasted only a few moments.
Milone walked Chase Headley to start the trouble, and Didi Gregorius followed with a bunt single. Then Aaron Hicks bounced a potential double-play grounder to Joe Mauer, but the first baseman allowed it to bounce out of his glove, loading the bases. Making matters worse: Mauer could still have gotten an out on the play — but Milone didn’t cover first base.
“We’ve seen that three times in the last week, where we’ve been a little bit late to cover. Sometimes you spectate,” Molitor said. “We had a chance to get an out if Tommy could have got off the mound there.”
It was Mauer’s first error of the season, but it was costly. Austin Romine followed with a tying sacrifice fly, and two batters later, Rob Refsnyder singled to put the Yankees in front.
Handed the lead, New York never gave the Twins a chance. Masahiro Tanaka pitched two more scoreless innings, and the hard-throwing trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Chapman each faced three hitters and retired them all.
“They call them the Big Three for a reason,” Milone said.
They call the Twins a last-place team for a reason, too.