DETROIT – Lance Lynn wanted to stay in the game. Paul Molitor wanted him to stay in the game. But it was the Tigers who were glad that he did.
Lynn extended his streak to five quality starts in a row Thursday, and this one might have been the best of the bunch — for six scoreless innings. But after Paul Molitor made a seventh-inning mound visit to gauge Lynn’s status, and elected to let him pitch out of trouble, Lynn surrendered a home run to JaCoby Jones that handed the Twins their second consecutive gut-punch loss, 3-1 to the Tigers at Comerica Park.
“I thought it was a good matchup to try to get us off the field,” Molitor said of his decision to stick with Lynn. “[Jones] cheated on a fastball, and he got it. To lose a series is tough when you get the pitching we did the last couple of days.”
Jose Berrios gave up only one run over six innings Wednesday, but lost. Lynn might have been even better Thursday, limiting the Tigers to nothing but ground balls (only three of which sneaked through the infield for harmless singles) and strikeouts (a season-high nine) through the first six innings.
The common thread in the games, both Twins’ losses: No offense for Minnesota after the first inning. Eddie Rosario doubled off the wall and Eduardo Escobar singled him home, giving the Twins a quick 1-0 lead off Michael Fulmer. After that, Fulmer took charge, retiring 10 consecutive batters and eventually finishing seven strong innings without allowing another run. Relievers Joe Jimenez and Shane Greene finished off the Twins, the latter earning his 17th save in 20 opportunities.
“When your offense is not producing much, everything becomes a little more critical, your margin of error on the mound is smaller. It’s tough to win 1-0 games on the road,” Molitor said. “Guys have got to find a way to grind. You’ve got to find something, You’ve got to find it in your preparation or an at-bat or something, and hopefully get going. We know some of these guys who haven’t contributed a lot have the ability to do it.”
Lynn tried to include himself in that category, at least for letting the Twins’ minuscule lead slip away.
“You’ve got to get through the seventh there. I wasn’t able to do it,” he said bluntly. “Everything was still there. Just made one bad pitch, and ran into a barrel. … Ended up giving up three runs and it cost us the win.”
Well, it was more than one pitch, though after his superb first six innings, it hardly mattered. John Hicks led off the seventh with a long line drive to the center field wall, his first career triple, and Niko Goodrum hit a fly ball deep enough to score him. And after hitting Jose Iglesias with a pitch, Molitor came out to make sure blisters weren’t bothering Lynn. They agreed that the righthander would finish the inning.
He never made it. Lynn immediately fell behind Jones 3-1, and had to come over the plate with a fastball. Jones was waiting for it, and blasted it 389 feet into the Twins’ bullpen in left-center.
“I felt good about our chances of giving him an opportunity to get off the field, and hopefully we score him a run,” Molitor said. “But they capitalized on the hit batsman and the hitter’s count.”
The home run was the first that Lynn had allowed in more than a month, but its timeliness was devastating to the Twins, who fell six games out of first place as they head to AL Central-leading Cleveland. They have not won a road series since May 7-8 in St. Louis.
“The rotation has given us plenty of innings and plenty of opportunity to find ways to win,” Molitor said. “Just haven’t backed it up on the other side of the ball.”