KANSAS CITY, MO. – Paul Molitor had a feeling this might be coming. The Twins’ three consecutive victories were all tight, taut games in the late innings, and each time his bullpen had built a wall that enabled his team to rack up runs, and wins, at the end.
“I’m going to have to be careful,” Molitor said Friday after using his most reliable arms for a third night in a row. “We’re probably going to see some different faces tomorrow.”
He was right — and the wall was breached. After giving up only two runs over nine innings during the winning streak, and with hot hands Matt Belisle and Trevor Hildenberger ruled out because of heavy workloads, Twins relievers stumbled Saturday, giving up three runs in a five-pitcher eighth inning of a 5-2 loss to Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium.
“September baseball — lot of pitching changes,” Molitor said after the Royals unexpectedly changed tactics — four consecutive hitters put the first pitch they saw into play — in the revolving-door eighth. “These [Royals] are professional hitters. They know how to grind it out, they know our tendencies, and they jumped all over some first-pitch breaking balls there from guys they didn’t know they were going to get breaking balls from.”
Ryan Pressly started the bottom of the eighth with the score tied 2-2. He gave up leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain and then walked Melky Cabrera on four pitches. Molitor summoned Buddy Boshers, who threw one pitch and gave up a tiebreaking single to Eric Hosmer.
Tyler Duffey was next, and Salvador Perez punished his only pitch, a curve, into the left field corner for an RBI double.
After an intentional walk to Mike Moustakas, next came Taylor Rogers, who got Brandon Moss to line out to right, also on his lone pitch, with all runners holding. Finally, Alan Busenitz entered, and surrendered a sacrifice fly to Alcides Escobar, capping Kansas City’s three-run inning, the Royals’ biggest outburst of the series against otherwise solid Twins pitching.
“We had it planned out for the eighth but got off to a bad start with an 0-2 hit and a walk, and we were fighting uphill after that,” Molitor said. “But that’s a good team. Until someone tells them they don’t have a chance, they’re not going to stop. That’s their mind-set, you can tell.”
Jose Berrios looked like the Twins’ weak link at the start of the game, putting on seven baserunners in the first three innings. But he was bailed out by his defense, which turned a double play with the bases loaded in the second inning, and then settled in nicely. He retired eight in a row at one point, leaving the game having given up only two runs in seven innings.
The Twins offense mostly fizzled, though, at least in big situations, going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. The only two runs came on solo home runs. One was by Eduardo Escobar, his AL-leading fifth in the month of September, and the other by Byron Buxton, who battled through a brilliant 10-pitch at-bat to clobber a 3-2 sinker into the Royals bullpen, his first home run since his three-homer day in Toronto on Aug. 17.
Trouble is, there was nobody on base. A pair of Eddie Rosario unsuccessful steal attempts preceded both of Buxton’s hits, and while one of them was due to an overslide picked up by replay umpires — “I don’t want to get into a debate about the replay and how that works when a guy beats the play but doesn’t hold the base,” Molitor said — the manager couldn’t help wonder how many runs the aggressive baserunning cost the Twins.
Given the lack of offense, the bullpen had little margin for error, and it didn’t take long to use it up.