OAKLAND, Calif. – History is within the Twins’ reach. Awful, agonizing, painful history.
Twins closer Trevor Hildenberger, one out away from escaping from a ninth-inning bases-loaded jam, threw a wild pitch to the backstop as he faced Matt Chapman. Stephen Piscotty slid across the plate before the ball could be retrieved, and the Athletics handed Minnesota an excruciating 3-2 loss at Oakland Coliseum.
The loss marked the 15th time this season that the Twins had watched their opponents celebrate a walkoff win, tying the 1964 Twins for the most in franchise history. And with one road game left, the Twins can still become the sixth team ever — and first in 43 seasons — to lose in walkoff fashion 16 times, the most ever.
“It’s tough. I like that we’re fighting, I like that we’re playing tough,” manager Paul Molitor said. “Guys are grinding. A lot of young players that are kind of learning on the fly.
“We couldn’t find a way to get that last run and give ourselves a chance.”
The Athletics’ inevitable rally came after they went hitless in their first nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. But after Piscotty doubled down the left-field line to open the ninth against Hildenberger, and Ramon Laureano struck out, Marcus Semien hit a hard ground ball at shortstop Jorge Polanco, who bobbled the ball, then bounced a throw that Joe Mauer couldn’t handle. The error, and succeeding intentional walk to Matt Joyce, loaded the bases for Mark Canha.
The Twins brought right fielder Max Kepler into the infield to help try to cut off any ground ball. They didn’t need the unusual alignment as it turned out; after fouling off six two-strike pitches, Canha struck out on a low changeup.
But after that epic showdown, Hildenberger’s first pitch to Chapman bounced in the dirt and past catcher Willians Astudillo, setting off a celebration in Oakland. The Athletics’ magic number to clinch at least a wild-card spot fell to one.
“The ball stuck to my hand a little bit too far,” Hildenberger said. “… I don’t usually miss by that much with fastballs, especially the first pitch of the at-bat.”
Asked about all the walkoff losses, Hildenberger said, “Yeah, it’s frustrating. I was there for all of them, and several of them are my fault. It’s frustrating. We need to be, and me especially, need to be better in tight games, on the road. Obviously that’s the only place walkoffs happen, and we’ve got to be better.”
The Twins managed to score twice against Oakland starter Mike Fiers and the A’s bullpen, with Austudillo in the middle of both rallies. Astudillo doubled against Fiers in the third inning, and scored on Mauer’s sacrifice fly. In the seventh, Astudillo singled home Ehire Adrianza, who had doubled, with the game-tying run.
Chase de Jong made one mistake in his third start as a Twin. With one out and a runner on base in the fifth inning, de Jong left a 1-2 fastball in the middle of the plate to Semien. It landed atop the scoreboard in left field, giving Oakland its only two runs of the first eight innings.
Not that there weren’t a few close calls. That same inning, in fact, ended up with the bases loaded and MLB home-run leader Khris Davis, whose pair of homers on Friday had already cost the Twins a game, at the plate against righthander Oliver Drake. But the much-traveled righthander calmly threw a 1-2 splitter in the dirt that struck out Davis waved at to leave three runners stranded for the third out.
Two innings later, Davis came to the plate against Tyler Duffey after Matt Chapman and Jed Lowrie led off the inning with back-to-back singles against Zack Littell. Duffey needed just two pitches to induce an around-the-horn double play, and after Taylor Rogers relieved him to face Matt Olson, Polanco made a spectacular stop of a ground ball, spun around and threw Olson out at first to preserve the tie.
But that only delayed, not prevented, Piscotty’s inevitable Gatorade bath at home plate.
Juan Graterol was vacationing with his family in Miami on Friday when he got an unexpected call to join the Twins.
“You never know what’s going to happen in this game,” said Graterol, a 29-year-old catcher who has 58 games of MLB experience with the Angels and spent July and August with the Twins’ Class AAA team in Rochester. “I’m really happy. I think my wife is even more excited than me. It’s a new chapter in my career.”
Graterol, who batted .284 in 34 games with the Red Wings, was summoned when it became clear that Mitch Garver’s concussion had ended his season.He will serve as the Twins’ third catcher for the season’s final week.