BALTIMORE – A day after the Twins and Orioles combined for the most home runs in one day in major league history, they combined for the fewest ever on Sunday.
So the Twins made a couple of doubles work just as well.
Willians Astudillo doubled home a run, Byron Buxton extended his major league lead in doubles to produce another run, and the Twins’ bullpen worked out of two bases-loaded situations to preserve a three-wins-in-24-hours sweep of the Orioles with a 4-3 victory at Camden Yards.
The victory, the Twins’ eighth in their past nine games in Baltimore, ensured that they will remain atop the AL Central for at least another day, but the game could not have been more different from the two victories that put them there a day earlier.
Minnesota and Baltimore walloped a combined 17 home runs during Saturday’s doubleheader, the most on a single day in baseball history, then didn’t even come close to knocking a ball out of the park on Sunday.
In place of the fireworks came speed, defense and pitching.
“It took several of our players to come up with big, big efforts. … That was a true team effort right there,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was beautiful. You could talk probably all day about what we saw and what we have to be happy about.”
He was happy with Astudillo, who doubled home Jorge Polanco in the first inning, then scored on C.J. Cron’s single, staking Kyle Gibson to an early two-run lead.
And he was delighted with Buxton, who surged to the MLB lead in doubles with four in this series.
“He has good instincts, too, and those instincts allow him to use that athleticism and make things happen,” Baldelli said of Buxton. “He can do things other guys can’t.”
Buxton proved it Sunday, leading off the fourth inning with a screamer that short-hopped the left field wall, his 12th double of the season. Any other player would likely have spent the rest of the inning there, because Polanco followed with a 301-foot routine fly ball to right field, and Astudillo hit a 262-foot pop fly into shallow center field. But Buxton tagged and moved up on both outs, scoring a run that would turn critical a few innings later.
“I don’t think they can throw me out, it’s as simple as that,” Buxton said of his daring tag-ups. “I’m going to run. You’ve got to throw me out.”
The Twins scored four runs quickly off Orioles starter Dylan Bundy, then left it to Gibson and three relievers to make them stand up. They almost didn’t.
Gibson, who had not earned a victory in 18 straight April starts dating to 2015, one shy of Matt Cain’s record for winless Aprils, finally broke that streak with six relatively quiet innings, his most effective start of the season. He gave up just two runs and left with a 4-2 lead.
Then came the tense part.
Trevor May threw a scoreless seventh but allowed two straight singles to lead off the eighth inning, and Baldelli went to Trevor Hildenberger for another dramatic escape. The sidearmer struck out Trey Mancini on a changeup, and got Cedric Mullins to ground back to first base. After loading the bases by walking cleanup hitter Renato Nunez, Hildenberger got ahead of lefthanded hitter Rio Ruiz 0-2 and fooled him with a low changeup, on which Ruiz hit a check-swing grounder to Hildenberger to end the inning.
“When there’s a guy on third and less than two outs, you definitely try to minimize fly balls that would get him in,” Hildenberger said. “That’s what you get paid to do, that’s why you’re relievers. You’re supposed to come in in those tight spots and get big outs. So far this season, I’ve been able to do that.”
So did Taylor Rogers, but it wasn’t easy for him, either. Jonathan Villar doubled home a run and moved pinch-runner Richie Martin, who would have scored if not for Eddie Rosario’s hustle to cut the ball off and get it back to the infield, to third base with two outs. But after intentionally walking Mancini, Rogers fell behind Pedro Severino 3-0 before forcing him to fly out to right field, earning his third save.
“It obviously wasn’t a day like we had yesterday offensively, but it was still good,” Baldelli said. “Our guys grinded through it, and we scored just enough.”