Max Kepler’s play was up for debate Wednesday night.
Which was more important in the Twins’ 4-1 victory over Boston — the home run he hit to put the Twins ahead for good, or his diving catch in the eighth that kept Boston’s offense from igniting?
“Man,” manager Paul Molitor said. “I’ll take defense. I hate to say it.”
For Kepler, it was his sweet swing that lifted a David Price pitch into the right field stands for a two-homer and a 3-1 lead the Twins never relinquished.
“Whatever wins the ballgame,” Kepler said. “So I guess, yeah ... runs.”
At least Kepler provided options on Wednesday. His work at the plate and in the field gives the Twins a chance to sweep the three-game series with one more win on Thursday. The Twins have held the Red Sox to three runs over the two games. And Boston is 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position in the series.
In the last week, the Twins have won games started by Cy Young winners in Price and Corey Kluber and another against front-line starter Chris Sale. That seems to belie their 33-37 record. But they have won four of their past five games.
The strides Kepler made at the plate earlier in the season have been hard to see lately. The hits to the opposite field dried up. The plucky at-bats against lefthanded pitchers had dwindled.
Kepler was skidding, going 4-for-32 over his previous 10 games and homerless since May 25. Molitor said he kept Kepler out of the lineup on Tuesday to let him clear his mind.
Kepler then busted both slumps on Wednesday.
The score was tied 1-1 in the fourth — the Twins’ run coming on Robbie Grossman’s leadoff home run — when Kepler got a fastball from Price and pounced for his first home run in 88 plate appearances.
“He loves going inside with the two-seam on lefties,” Kepler said. “I just had a feeling. I rolled over on the first two and he was going to come back in there. So I kept my hands in. Did some damage.”
Twins righthander Lance Lynn left after five innings, holding Boston to an unearned run. But he also went to three-ball counts eight times, walking five. That put the game in the hands of the bullpen, and it responded by retiring 12 of the final 13 Red Sox batters it faced. Taylor Rogers, Addison Reed and Trevor Hildenberger each pitched scoreless innings before Fernando Rodney threw a perfect ninth inning for his 16th save of the season.
So Lynn was able to even his record at 5-5 while lowering his ERA to 4.64.
Kepler helped the cause in the eight inning when he closed on J.D. Martinez’s sinking liner to make a diving catch — although it wasn’t ruled a catch initially. Martinez slid into second base as Kepler motioned that he made the grab.
“Well, I looked to the umpire and immediately he was like, ‘I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it. My bad,’ ” Kepler said.
The replay review took just 38 seconds to rule that it was a catch, and the announced crowd of 33,153 — the largest crowd at Target Field since Opening Day — roared its approval. Brian Dozier added an RBI double in the bottom of the eighth — his second double of the game — to add on to Kepler’s work.
“Overall, a good game for him,” Molitor said of Kepler. “You take the homer and you take the catch.”