ARLINGTON, Texas — It was an odd atmosphere in the press box tonight, as reports kept coming in about the snipers in nearby Dallas. An already-quiet press box was totally silent for much of the game.
But the game went on, another Twins’ victory over the team with the best record in the AL — they’re now 3-1 against the Rangers, having outscored them 34-13 — and there were some interesting side notes. Here are a handful:
— Tyler Duffey’s six shutout innings kept the Twins perfect in July: They have received at least six innings from the starting pitcher in all seven games. That’s the longest such streak of the season, topping the six straight from April 13-18, and it’s quite a turnaround. Not since May 15 had the Twins had more than two such games in a row. No wonder they are 5-2 in July, already just two wins away from matching their seven wins in April.
“It’s been a lot about the starting pitching. We came close to putting up another shutout today. Guys are pitching better from top to bottom.,” manager Paul Molitor said. “They’re all doing well enough to keep us in games and give us a chance to win.”
Eduardo Nunez had three hits and drew two walks, so it was a great night for the Twins’ new All-Star. He also made a heads-up play on the bases that helped turn a popup into a run.
With the bases loaded and one out, Max Kepler popped one into short center. Elvis Andrus had to hustle after the ball, but instead of going halfway to see if he would catch it, Nunez, standing on third base, suddenly rushed back to third base. When Andrus made a diving catch, then leapt to his feet to throw home, Nunez tore down the line at top speed and slid home, head-first.
“It’s a tough read,” Molitor said of Nunez’s decision. “Instinctively, guys with speed will go back on that play, because if it falls, you’re probably going to score because the ball’s going away from the infield. If [the fielder] makes the catch, he’s not going to have much time to recover. But it’s a good play.”
A rare one, too. Only three other times in franchise history have the Twins scored a run on a sacrifice fly to shortstop. It happened in 1965, 1972 and most recently in 2008, when Jason Kubel drove home Joe Mauer with a similar popup.
Kennys Vargas didn’t know much about the pitcher he was facing when he was called upon to pinch-hit in the ninth inning Thursday. That’s because Jared Hoying isn’t a pitcher.
For the second time in five days, the Rangers resorted to a position player to pitch the ninth inning, and Vargas didn’t like it.
“I never [faced] a position player before. It’s tough,” Vargas said. Why, what’s so difficult? “He’s really slow.”
Good point. As Vargas pointed out, Hoying threw slower than a standard batting-practice pitcher, partially because batting practice is conducted from in front of the mound, not on it. But no matter. On a 1-and-0 count, Vargas timed Hoying’s so-called fastball and blasted it beyond the center field fence.
“It was a fastball,” Vargas affirmed. “55 [mph] maybe?”
Actually, MLB timed the pitch at 59 mph, but because no big-league pitchers actually throw that slowly, it was described as a knuckleball.
Max Kepler batted twice with the bases loaded on Thursday, which is becoming a habit. He’s come to the plate with runners on all three bases 11 different times in his 47 games this season; no other Twin has more than six such plate appearances.
Kepler hit the popup that scored Nunez in the first inning, and struck out in the fourth, thus leaving five runners on in his two at-bats.
That’s why he was so happy to single in the sixth, even if it was with the bases empty, then connected on a two-run homer in the eighth, his seventh home run of the season.
“It’s a real shame when you can’t get any of those runs out there,” Kepler said, “but I got a second chance and kind of redemptified myself.”
No, it’s not really a word. But it should be.