BOSTON – The Twins were hoping that their front office would supplement their roster, not subtract from it, for a run at the postseason. On Sunday, they were reminded why.
Nathan Eovaldi, a righthander the Twins clobbered when he pitched for the scuffling-along Rays just two weeks ago, appeared electrified and invigorated by his sudden transfer to the top of the standings. The Twins, meanwhile, looked like a team deflated by its front office’s trade-deadline sell-off. Eovaldi, making his Red Sox debut, outpitched Jose Berrios with seven shutout innings, and the Twins lost their third game in a row, falling 3-0 at Fenway Park.
Maybe it wasn’t the hangover from losing longtime, popular players Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Pressly that caused the Twins to sleepwalk at the plate. Twins players and fill-in manager Derek Shelton disputed that notion, pointing out that they were facing the best team in baseball on its home turf.
But they also managed only four hits Sunday, two of them infield singles, and have gone 15 innings without scoring a run. No Twins player has reached third base since the sixth inning Saturday night.
“Definitely deflating,” Logan Morrison said after taking an 0-for-3 courtesy of Eovaldi, his former teammate. “But it’s not so much the trades, it’s really more about just not scoring runs. It’s easy to be excited when you’re scoring runs and getting hits. When the bats are quiet, the dugout tends to be quiet.”
And what terrific timing: Minnesota opens a three-game series with first-place Cleveland at Target Field on Monday, but the Twins’ chances of making a charge in the AL Central were seriously damaged over the past week. They arrived in Boston surprisingly buoyant over their sweep in Toronto, and talking about their determination to make the final 60 games count. They depart Fenway Park trailing the Indians by nine games, and facing the prospect of being stripped of even more veterans before Tuesday’s deadline.
“You have to maintain course. We made a couple of trades, [and] in the last 48 hours, things can heat up,” Shelton said. “Who knows what happens?”
Berrios isn’t going anywhere, but he too appeared unusually afflicted Sunday. Just two starts removed from his All-Star appearance, the righthander was strafed for a career-high nine hits by Boston’s best-in-the-business lineup, while recording only 14 outs. Berrios walked three and hit a batter, too, and put runners on base in all five innings. In three of them, Boston loaded the bases.
That Berrios allowed only three runs was remarkable, and an indication of his ability to pitch out of trouble. Yes, J.D. Martinez hit a sharp grounder to the wall in left field for a double that brought home two runs, and then singled home Andrew Benintendi in the fourth. But he was the only hitter having success in the clutch; the Red Sox were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position against Berrios.
“That’s a testament to who Josie is as a pitcher, and his maturation,” Shelton said. “He went out there without his best stuff, against one of the best lineups in baseball, and he was still able to get himself out of jams. Even when he’s off, he can still contain things.”
It was Eovaldi who did most of the containing, though. The same pitcher who was pummeled for eight runs and retired only eight hitters in Target Field just before the All-Star break was simply dominating, needing only 82 pitches to complete seven innings. In part, Shelton said, the reason was a curveball that Eovaldi didn’t have a chance to show in their last meeting.
“It wasn’t a pitch that JRo [hitting coach James Rowson] had seen before,” Shelton said. “He used it well, dropped it in for strikes and then was able to expand with it. It took us by surprise and ended up being really effective.”