CHICAGO – Tommy Milone against the White Sox? As reliable as Serena Williams winning the U.S. Open, as guaranteed as Kentucky owning March Madness.
That proved too true Saturday night.
Milone, who had given up only seven runs in seven career starts against Chicago, equaled that number in the fourth inning alone at U.S. Cellular Field, surrendering the Twins' largest inning of the season, not to mention a chance to climb back into postseason position. The Twins never recovered from that momentary meltdown and fell to the White Sox 8-2 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Texas succumbed to a big inning of its own, a five-run fifth in Arlington, to lose to Oakland 5-3 and invite the Twins into a tie for the final wild-card spot in the American League. But the Twins didn't play well enough to accept, and remained one game back with 21 games to play.
"We got outplayed," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We didn't run the bases very well, we didn't defend very well, we didn't pitch particularly well. We just have to accept that and, in Tommy's case, just try to regroup next time."
Milone entered Saturday's start in about as commanding a position as an 88-mile-per-hour, pitch-to-contact specialist could occupy, having contributed back-to-back dominating outings during this pennant race, and owning Sandy Koufax numbers vs. the playing-out-the-string White Sox.
He had already beaten Chicago three times this season, owned a 1.39 ERA in seven career starts against them and had surrendered only two runs in 20⅔ innings this year, an 0.87 ERA.
"You know as a hitter there are certain pitchers you feel better against, and I'm sure for pitchers there are certain teams you feel more confident against," Molitor said. "[If] you know you've had success against a given team, it probably aids you when you go out there."
Maybe so. But that feeling wore off pretty quickly Saturday.
"The second time through the lineup, they got a lot more aggressive," Milone said after giving up seven runs for the second time this season. "Me leaving pitches over the plate, them being aggressive, [it was] a combination that just didn't end up going very well."
And the worst part wasn't the five hits Milone gave up to the first six batters in the inning, nor the walk to J.B. Shuck that finally triggered his removal. No, the worst part for Molitor had to have been the fundamental errors the Twins made to give aid and comfort to their enemy's cause.
With two on and a run already in, Geovany Soto laid down a sacrifice bunt toward third base. It appeared to be rolling foul, but Trevor Plouffe grabbed it before it could, then made a hurried throw to first that got away from Joe Mauer for a run-scoring error.
Moments later, after a two-run double by Carlos Sanchez put Chicago ahead, Adam Eaton singled to left, and Aaron Hicks threw wildly toward the plate, enabling Eaton to move up to second. And once Blaine Boyer relieved Milone, the Twins put on a pickoff play in which Boyer throws to third, hoping that Trayce Thompson, on first base after singling, might be trying to steal second. Instead, Boyer's throw skipped into the dirt and past Plouffe, scoring another run.
"It's a play that we work on, though we don't use it very often. When we don't slide-step particularly well, and they have a basestealer over [at first], we're just trying to get the guy at first to put his head down and go," Molitor said. "It's a play to get the guy at first base to slow down, and we didn't execute, obviously."
Said Boyer: "Terrible throw. I just didn't get it anywhere near Trev. In the dirt — poor execution."
In all, it was an ugly display that produced seven runs, all of them charged to Milone though only four were earned.
"It was uncharacteristic of us," Boyer said. "But that's a good thing, that it's uncharacteristic of this team."