The Twins’ clubhouse had the air of an election-night party for a losing candidate Wednesday. Everybody keeping a stiff upper lip, speaking optimistically about the chances for a miracle — but morbidly mindful of the numbers that just keep piling up.
Numbers like: four, the length of the latest losing streak after their 3-2 loss. Or nine, the games-below .500, tying their season high.
And, for P.J. Walters, six.
That’s the number of starts Walters has made since his last victory. The inning that derailed him Wednesday, after five innings of one-hit pitching. And most important, the number of starting pitchers the Twins will have on Saturday, the day one of them will lose his job.
“Obviously, that’s above my pay grade. But at the same time, all but my last two outings, we’ve had a chance to win,” Walters said bravely, as though hoping those late ballots from the suburbs might turn things around. “That’s my job, to give us a chance and try to win some ballgames. It’s been awhile since I won one — I need to get that going pretty quick.”
If he doesn’t get that chance on the Twins’ upcoming road trip, he can blame CC Sabathia and Robinson Cano, two Yankees still performing at Hall of Fame-type levels. Sabathia had the number of the night: 200, his career victory total after holding the Twins to fewer than four runs for the 15th consecutive start against them. He’s now 11-0 in his past 12 starts, regular season or postseason, against the Twins, and he showed why with the game on the line.
In the third inning, with Joe Mauer on third and Ryan Doumit on first, no outs, and the Twins leading 1-0, Sabathia faced the 4-5-6 hitters in the Twins’ lineup, and Mauer never budged. Strikeout, pop fly, strikeout, and the Twins’ best chance was over.
“We had chances we didn’t capitalize on, me in particular,” said Trevor Plouffe, who later touched Sabathia for a home run in the fifth. “I missed the one pitch he was going to give me. With a guy like CC, you’ve got to score those runs.”
Yep, can’t miss the rare chances a pitcher gives you. You know, like the Yankees. With Walters effectively confusing New York with his 75-mph slider and 88-mph fastball, he opened the sixth with a four-pitch walk to Brett Gardner. “Walking the leadoff guy always seems to turn into trouble,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Then you run into that mess.”
Ichiro Suzuki started the mess with a double, bringing up Cano, baseball’s hottest non-Puig hitter. He was 18-for-his-last-35 at the moment, and Gardenhire considered simply walking him. But “you really don’t want the go-ahead run with no outs on first base,” he concluded, and Walters was instructed to try to get Cano to chase a ball in the dirt.
He got ahead of Cano 1-2, “and with a base open, I don’t want to let him beat me. I just hung a breaking ball, a pitch I should have bounced,” Walters said with a mournful shrug. “With a 2-2 count, I could still do anything, and if I walk him, oh well. But obviously I hung it — not what I was trying to do there.”
Cano bounced the ball off the wall for a double, driving in two. When Travis Hafner singled, Walters was done. Perhaps done with the Twins for a while.
“For five innings, he was moving the ball. I thought he used his fastball a lot better,” said Gardenhire, who would not comment on the Twins’ impending decision. “He pitched really good. But it got away from him in a hurry.”