BALTIMORE – Not only are the Twins winning road games at a startling pace, but they are doing it almost sadistically, giving home teams the illusion that they are vulnerable. In the space of 45 hours at Camden Yards, the Twins rallied from a five-run deficit for one victory, then scratched out only two runs yet captured a second.
And Wednesday’s 4-3 victory, completing a convincing three-game sweep of the proud and dangerous Orioles, was the cruelest of all: The Twins let dead-pull slugger Chris Davis, who had homered one inning earlier, come to the plate in the eighth not only with the tying run at second base and the go-ahead run at first, but ahead 3-0 in the count.
Then reliever Taylor Rogers froze him, getting three consecutive called strikes.
“That was a killer,” said Brian Dozier, whose error one batter earlier forced Rogers to stare down the Orioles’ long-ball specialist. “That’s a great job, against a guy who can turn around the game. To throw a breaking ball on 3-and-2? He just froze. That’s pretty good.”
It’s just one of many pretty good things about the Twins these days. The major leagues’ best road team completed its first three-game sweep wearing gray uniforms in almost exactly one year, riding another strong start from Jose Berrios and those critical outs from the bullpen. The Twins have won four games in a row and six of seven, but it’s on the road where they really have shined: They have won nine of their past 10 and are an MLB-best 14-5 (.737) outside Minnesota.
“We feel good that we’ve competed as highly as we have on a daily basis,” manager Paul Molitor said. “There’s something to be said for confidence, particularly when you’re talking about a younger core of players. When it’s going the right way, it kind of feeds on itself.”
The Twins fed on Orioles starter Chris Tillman, at least for a couple of innings, staking Berrios to a 4-0 lead before he had thrown 10 pitches. But that’s all the runs the Twins could muster, putting the onus on the young starter — he turns 23 Saturday — and the bullpen to make it hold up. Berrios wasn’t quite as sharp as in his first two starts of the season, hardly a surprise since he had given up only one run in 15 ⅓ innings. But considering he was facing the Orioles in their homer-happy iconic ballpark, it might have been just as impressive: four hits and two walks in 6 ⅓ innings, while striking out seven.
Three of the four hits were solo home runs, however, enabling Baltimore to rally despite Berrios’ ability to frustrate them with letter-high fastballs and curves in the dirt. Adam Jones grew so frustrated, he slammed his bat on the plate after flailing at a 95-mile-per-hour, shoulder-high fastball for strike three.
“I learned that from Ervin [Santana], I learned that from Hector [Santiago],” Berrios said. “Throw the ball harder upstairs, because if you don’t they’ll hit it hard.”
Davis, J.J. Hardy and Jonathan Schoop did hit it hard, sending the ball flying into the stands; Schoop’s homer ended Berrios’ day. But the lefthanded Rogers took the mound in the eighth with that 4-3 lead still intact and the top of the order, mostly righthanded, coming up.
“I had [Matt] Belisle ready, or [Brandon] Kintzler for a four-out save,” Molitor said. “But you just trust your gut a little bit on the matchups.”
Rogers gave up a leadoff single but then struck out Jones, got Manny Machado to pop up and forced Mark Trumbo to hit a grounder up the middle that glanced off Dozier’s glove.
“I should have made the play for sure,” the Twins second baseman said, relieved. “Especially with Davis coming up.”
Rogers threw three curveballs — “bad pitches,” he said — in falling behind to Davis 3-0. But he came back with a pair of 93-mph fastballs across the plate that Davis watched.
And then? “Not even a doubt, I was going to go right back to the curveball. It’s my bread-and-butter. I’ll live and die with that,” Rogers said. He lived, because Davis appeared shocked at the 80-mph curve, and didn’t swing. Strike three.
“I was pretty pumped up for it,” Rogers said. “It’s a big situation.”