It might seem like overkill for a manager to argue so vociferously over something as seemingly minor as a checked swing, but things change in the heat of a playoff race, and Paul Molitor knew what he was doing. One more chance, one extra swing in the hands of Lorenzo Cain, and … well, just look what happened.
Barely 60 seconds after the Twins manager stalked to his office, having been ejected by plate umpire Marty Foster, Cain crushed a 97-mile-per-hour fastball off the outfield wall, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs for the Royals. It was the final, decisive momentum switch in a back-and-forth game won by Kansas City 5-4 Sunday at Target Field.
“Obviously I thought he went too far. It’s pretty simple,” Molitor said after the Twins lost the rubber game of a three-game series. “Marty must not have got a good look at it, and so he turned it over. And we didn’t get the call.”
The Twins wrestled with their pique over believing they were victimized, and their instincts to put it behind them, to not let it affect their charge toward a playoff berth. Molitor said he doesn’t want to watch a replay of Cain’s bat flick at the curveball from rookie reliever Alan Busenitz, and catcher Chris Gimenez, though he thought it was strike three, added that “that wasn’t the game right there. Sure, it swings the momentum a little bit, but we had opportunities to come back and tie it or win it.”
They did, and after the way the Twins rallied from 1-0 and 3-2 deficits to take the lead, they seemed a bit surprised that they couldn’t pull off a third comeback.
Eduardo Escobar smashed his third home run in two days, a two-run shot to right, to rally the Twins in the fifth inning, and Byron Buxton looped a two-run single into right field to do the same in the sixth. Yet each time, the Royals answered, the first time on Melky Cabrera’s two-run homer off Ervin Santana.
The second time, the Twins felt Kansas City got a little help. In the seventh inning, Santana surrendered a two-out single to Alcides Escobar on his 110th pitch, then left to a huge ovation from the announced crowd of 32,234. But those cheers turned to a rain of boos over what Foster, first-base ump Mike Muchlinski and Cain did next.
Batting with two on after Busenitz walked Whit Merrifield, Cain fouled off three fastballs. After taking a ball, Cain seemed to commit to a curveball in the dirt but pulled his bat back.
Did he swing? “You want my opinion?” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “100 percent.”
Foster wasn’t sure, though, and asked for help. Muchlinski ruled Cain had stopped in time, and the Twins bench erupted.
The feeling in the dugout was “not good,” Santana said. “But they’re in charge of the game. We can say anything we want, and they’re not going to change it.”
Molitor said plenty, until Foster turned and handed him his second ejection of the season.
Given a second chance, Cain didn’t miss. He fouled off another fastball, then drove the next one, high in the strike zone, off the wall just below the scoreboard in right-center. When the ball ricocheted past Buxton, both runners scored — and Cain decided to try it, too, though he was thrown out at home by a nice relay from Dozier.
“All I care about was the pitch that he hit,” Busenitz said. “If I execute that pitch, [the checked swing] doesn’t matter.”
The Twins weren’t finished, but they didn’t collect another hit, either. A pair of two-out walks in the eighth inning went for naught when Cain made a running catch of Mitch Garver’s fly ball on the warning track in center. And after left fielder Alex Gordon dropped Eduardo Escobar’s leadoff warning-track fly in the ninth for a two-base error, Brandon Maurer registered his first save for Kansas City by retiring the next three Twins in order.
“This is perfect practice for the type of games we have coming our way,” Gimenez said. “You can’t dwell on a game like this. We’ve got to move on.”