Paul Molitor’s days are becoming rote in the face of his team’s 11-34 record: Start the day by expressing hope, end it by cauterizing wounds.
So it was on Tuesday, when the prospect of a once-reliable virtuoso on the mound enabled the Twins manager to daydream about a sudden turnaround in his team’s play.
“We think that every day — I know it sounds a little bit odd,” Molitor shrugged as he spoke about a team that finds itself 12 games out — of fourth place. “You’d like to think this [game] will be competitive and Ervin [Santana] somehow finds a way to give you a chance as you get into the latter stages of the game.”
Oh, well. Try again this afternoon.
Santana was roasted by the Royals, who slapped him into submission in fewer than four innings, and the Twins raised hopes with a ninth-inning rally that produced only more frustration. The result was Minnesota’s third consecutive loss and eighth in nine games, 7-4 at Target Field.
“We made them work at the end of the game there,” Molitor said sanguinely as he autopsied the Twins’ latest breakdown. “But we talked about hopefully getting a good start, and that didn’t happen.”
Quite the opposite, in fact. Santana was kicked around for nine hits and six runs, both his worst totals of the season, and he lasted only 3 ⅔ innings, his shortest (non-rain) outing of the year. Four of the hits were for extra bases, and his ERA bloated by more than a run, from 3.13 to 4.17.
“Basically, [my] location was not good. Everything was little bit out of the zone,” Santana said after falling to 1-3 this season — still tied for the best record in the Twins’ rotation. “The two-seamer to [Salvador] Perez was right in the middle. That’s not good.”
Nope, the Royals catcher clubbed it to straightaway center in the second inning, a two-run shot that preserved the Twins’ perfect record — they have trailed at some point in every home game this year — and triggered a steady uprising against their former teammate.
Worst of all for the Twins was the fact that the veteran righthander heaped 5 ⅓ more innings on a bullpen that had to pick up 6 ⅓ Monday night, all with a day game looming Wednesday.
Actually, a quartet of Twins relievers handled the workload well, giving up only one more run, but the cushion Santana provided Kansas City was a lot for the Twins to overcome, considering their biggest comeback of the year is from a two-run deficit.
And especially since the Twins couldn’t capitalize on their best chances. The Twins put the first three runners aboard against K.C. starter Edinson Volquez in the fifth inning, scoring a run on Joe Mauer’s single to cut the Royals’ lead to 6-4. But “we had something going, but it didn’t go very far,” Molitor said, the rally fizzling under a groundout, a strikeout and a fly out.
And in the ninth, the Twins loaded the bases against Royals closer Wade Davis with nobody out. Eduardo Nunez struck out on an 86-mph cutter. Mauer whiffed on a 97-mph fastball. And Miguel Sano, whose three-strikeout night moved him into a tie for the major league lead, lofted a high fly that briefly thrilled the crowd — but fell far short of the fence, an easy final out.
“Miggy looked like he got it on the end of the bat,” Molitor said. “… Like a lot of our guys, he’s young and frustrated and trying to get back on track.”