DETROIT – Matt Belisle tried to hog the blame for the end of the Twins’ six-game winning streak on Saturday night, tried to soak up all the responsibility for the Twins loosing their grip on a playoff spot after just one day.
The matches that lit this forest on fire? “A nice little fastball, tee’d up right down the middle,” Belisle testified, as if Justin Upton’s stunning game-winning home run supplied a dozen runs, and not just the final two in the Twins’ stunning 12-11 loss, their first defeat in a week. “I take full accountability for this loss. You’ve just got to make better pitches.”
Yes, well, placing the blame on Belisle, who’s been the Twins’ semi-sorta-maybe closer for only 11 days, requires overlooking a few facts. Like the 5-0 hole Jose Berrios put the Twins in just two outs into the game. Like the failure to turn a double play that extended Detroit’s three-run eighth. Like Trevor Hildenberger’s first real slip-up, a home run to the Tigers’ No. 9 hitter, Jose Iglesias, that pulled Detroit to within a run.
And especially the final six consecutive innings that ended with runners in scoring position, opportunities frittered away that would have made Upton’s no-doubter a footnote, not a climax.
“We had chances, even though we scored 11, to score more than 11,” grumbled Twins manager Paul Molitor after his team left 11 runners on base, seven in scoring position. “It’s tough to swallow those kind, especially when you need to win games. You do a lot of good things — 19 hits, 11 runs — and you can’t win.”
Nope, though once the Twins recovered from the 5-0 first-inning deficit, it sure felt like they would. Eddie Rosario homered for the fifth time in a week, Byron Buxton connected on a blast that he thought would be a triple but actually cleared the wall, and Joe Mauer had his biggest run-producing night in seven years, with a homer, double and five RBI. The Twins turned a five-run deficit into a five-run lead, 11-6 after six innings, and seemed headed toward their longest winning streak since 2011.
But just as they did several times during their recent road trip, the Twins turned off the offensive spigot after six innings. And the Tigers chipped away, first with a triple by Mikie Mahtook that turned into a seventh-inning run. The Tigers added three more on Iglesias’ blast into the bullpen in the eighth, an at-bat that wouldn’t have happened if the Twins had turned a Miguel Sano-to-Brian Dozier-to-Mauer double play. Umpires thought they had; replay overturned it.
“We just had trouble stopping their momentum. Made a lot of good plays, but the one that hurt us was Miggy’s hesitation on the ground ball,” Molitor said. “It’s obviously really an ugly, tough loss to take.”
The Twins left the bases loaded in the ninth, with Sano striking out on a Shane Greene changeup, and Belisle had no cushion to work with as he pursued his third save.
Mahtook reached out and poked a slider over Dozier’s head for a leadoff hit, and then Belisle fell behind 2-0 to Upton. A slider got him back to 2-1, but then he tried to go with a fastball, down and away. It wasn’t down nearly enough, and Upton rifled it into the left field seats, sending what was left of the 33,006 fans into a frenzy.
“It’s about as bad a taste as you want to put in your mouth, I guess, especially when the team is rolling and you’ve got them where you want them,” Belisle said. “You never want to fail, so to speak, but tonight that’s on me. That’s tough to swallow, but I’m tougher than the situation, so that’s OK.”