CLEVELAND — With a three-hour bus ride to Detroit still ahead Sunday evening, it would have been nice, Twins manager Paul Molitor said, to savor a sweep of the Indians as the turnpike scenery rolled by.
But Danny Salazar sabotaged their bandwagon.
Minnesota’s hot hitting came to a screeching halt Sunday the moment Salazar climbed on the Progressive Field mound — or actually, about 90 seconds after that. Brian Dozier launched a leadoff home run, but the Twins didn’t manage another run — correction: not another hit — off Salazar the rest of the day, and left for Michigan with an 8-2 loss to the Indians as baggage.
“You can’t really complain about how things went this weekend. It’s probably a good time to go back to Detroit and take on that challenge again,” Molitor said. “We’ve just got to put today behind us.”
Sure, because the Twins always hit so well in Comerica Park, right? They opened the season there on April 6, and didn’t score a run until April 9. That 22-1 embarrassment of a sweep made the Twins look doomed to last place again, but “we’re a different team now,” Dozier said as the Twins packed for their three-game series in Detroit, beginning Tuesday. The Twins, now 18-14, can actually catch the Tigers in the standings with a sweep this time. “We played much better against them at home two weeks ago [despite losing two of three], and we’ve taken some good steps forward since then, too.”
It just didn’t look like it Sunday.
Salazar, who struck out 10 Twins on April 18 en route to his first win of the season, did himself one better this time, whiffing a career-high 11 Twins in just seven innings, improving to 4-1 by retiring 21 straight batters after Dozier’s homer. Only four balls left the infield after Dozier clanged one off the left-field foul pole — yes, the Twins, baseball’s hottest team, came within approximately one foot from being in peril not only of being shut out, but perhaps no-hit — and all six Twins struck out in the fifth and sixth innings. After collecting 13 hits on Friday and 16 on Saturday, the Twins were two-hit Sunday for the first time since July 24, 2013, at Los Angeles.
“He was throwing hard [95 mph a few times], and then his changeup was just disappearing,” Molitor said. “You get frustrated, and it just increases how hard you try. … There’s a tendency for guys to feel like they’ve got to get [their swing] started early, like they’ve got to swing harder, which is probably the opposite of what’s true.”
Everyone felt that way, apparently, because, one day after eight of the nine Twins in the lineup collected a hit, eight of the nine Twins struck out against Salazar. And even when he left, fortunes didn’t change much — reliever Zach McAllister struck out the side in the eighth inning, too, and Minnesota struck out a season-high 15 times. That tops their previous high of 14, set the last time they faced Salazar.
“Hoooo, that was the best I’ve seen him,” said Torii Hunter, the lone Twin to avoid strike three. “Instead of being a thrower, he was a pitcher. He pitched today. When he wasn’t using [the fastball], he pitched with splits and changeups and sliders and curveballs.”
The game appeared to be yet another Twins’ hit parade when Dozier smacked Salazar’s fourth pitch, a 95-mph fastball, out of the park, a blast that made a little history: It moved him up to fourth for most leadoff homers by a Twin, though with eight so far, he still trails all-time leader Jacque Jones by a dozen. But that was all the offense the Twins managed until the ninth inning, when Torii Hunter drew a two-out walk off Cleveland closer Cody Allen, moved up to second base, then scored on Joe Mauer’s single.
Trevor May took the loss for the Twins, allowing six runs on nine hits over four innings, but his day might have been different without a critical mistake by his defense. With two outs in the fourth inning, Eddie Rosario dropped a Jason Kipnis fly ball on the warning track while on the run, turning it into an RBI triple. That started lots of trouble, because instead of a scoreless inning, the next four batters also collected hits. Lonnie Chisenhall’s three-run homer to center field capped the five-run inning.
“I left a ball over the plate for Chisenhall. The rest is history. That’s how you give up a five-spot,” May said after his ERA, which had fallen to 4.15, ballooned once more to 5.40. “There were all kinds of opportunities to get myself out of it. I’ve got to stay with what I’m trying to do no matter what’s going on around you.”
A good lesson for the rest of the team, too, as they head to Detroit.