There were 284 pitches thrown Thursday night, and 54 outs recorded. The game lasted nearly three hours, and thirty players took part.
Yet for the Twins, it sure felt like their 2-1 loss to the Rangers at Target Field came down to one pitch.
Tyler Scheppers threw it, and Josh Willingham hit it. The Rangers had the pitcher they wanted for that situation, and the Twins weren’t complaining about having their best run producer at the plate. And when Willingham’s bat made contact with Scheppers’ pitch, the ball was hit as hard, Willingham said, as the home run he cannoned out of the park one inning earlier.
But this time? Bottom of the eighth, bases loaded, one out, 3-and-2 count?
“He hit a bullet,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Just right at them.”
Right at Elvis Andrus, to be precise, who seemed to swallow up the smash to avoid being maimed by it, then turned it into a deflating 6-4-3 double play. And just like that, the Twins’ first one-run loss of the season (after winning all five of their previous close ones) seemed sealed.
“It was bad hitting,” Willingham joked afterward. The shortstop “has been playing there for 100 years.”
Rangers starter Nick Tepesch has only been alive for 24, but he looked like a savvy veteran in his fourth big-league start, retiring 18 of the first 20 hitters he faced with an electric mix of fastballs and sliders. Willingham finally solved him in the seventh inning, bashing a fastball that cleared the left-field fence by about a foot.
“He’s a professional hitter and he didn’t miss it,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “He did exactly what he wanted to do with it.”
The same couldn’t be said for Twins starter Vance Worley, whose two-runs-in-five-innings outing looks a lot better on paper that it did on the mound. The righthander needed 51 pitches to labor through the first two innings, 37 of them in the second inning alone. He was over 100 pitches in only five innings, and left, as he had in each of his first four starts, without a lead.
But Worley kept the Twins in the game, giving up only an RBI single by Nelson Cruz (who was cut down by Chris Parmelee trying to stretch it into a double), and a run-scoring double by Andrus in the fifth that bounced away from Willingham, allowing Leonys Martin to score from first.
That meant that, as great as Tepesch pitched, the Twins weren’t cooked.
And when Wilkin Ramirez hit a pinch-hit single in the eighth off Scheppers and Brian Dozier followed with a double, the Twins had a situation they liked. Washington weighted his options, and chose to intentionally walk Joe Mauer.
“[Scheppers] thrives in that situation,” said Rangers closer Joe Nathan, the ex-Twin. “It would be very easy, especially at 3-2, especially with bases loaded, to give in. To say, ‘I’ve got to throw a strike,’ and put it down the middle. He stuck with his guns, threw an excellent two-seamer on the outside part of the plate, and got a ground ball.”
And just like that — well, after Nathan retired his old team in the ninth for his seventh save — the Twins were back at .500 at 9-9.
“One hit away,” Gardenhire shrugged. “We had our chance.”