ST. LOUIS – Jose Berrios pitching well, that surprised nobody. The Twins’ sluggers taking turns hitting them out, that’s a pretty routine day at the ballpark. Even splitting a doubleheader with the Cardinals, disappointing as it was, is hardly a bombshell.
No, the improbable mystery of Minnesota’s one-day road trip to Busch Stadium, which produced a 7-3 victory and a 6-4 loss to the Cardinals, is a simple one: What the heck happened to Randy Dobnak?
“I’m not really sure, exactly,” the righthander said after the weirdest loss of his 18-game career. “It was just a really strange inning. I couldn’t tell you the last time I walked a guy home.”
Well, it hadn’t happened in his 18 big-league games. Dobnak, normally a ground-ball machine who has turned into perhaps the Twins’ most reliable starter during this strange season, was cruising along as usual in Game 2, the Cardinals hitless and a double play erasing their lone baserunner, until the third inning. And then Dobnak, who normally appears like he can throw strikes blindfolded, abruptly lost control like he never has before.
Over the next 20 minutes, Dobnak, who had not hit a batter all season, plunked two, one of them forcing in a run. A control artist who had never walked two batters in an inning did that, too, the latter one to Paul DeJong with the bases loaded on four pitches. Mix in a couple of base hits, a force-out lost because catcher Ryan Jeffers wasn’t standing on the plate, and some bad luck on weakly hit balls, and voila — the first five-run inning of Dobnak’s young career. He had never before allowed more than two.
“If the hit by pitch that glanced [Tommy Edman’s] foot doesn’t actually hit him, or we get the out at home plate — there were things that could have happened that caused that inning to play out a little different,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Was it clean? Not even close. But it was just very odd.”
It stood out because the doubleheader, repackaged from a two-day visit to give the Cardinals a day off Wednesday, was otherwise a steamroll of a day for the Twins, who outhit the Cardinals 18-9 over the two games, out-homered them 5-1, and even made the defensive play of the game when Jake Cave’s horizontal dive robbed Yadier Molina of extra bases.
Very little was surprising about it, considering the Twins swept the Cardinals at Target Field in July. In fact, this is the formula the Twins envisioned last winter. It just took longer than expected to marinate.
Add Josh Donaldson to Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano, the plan went, and trot your way around the bases and up the standings. It worked in Game 1, when the team’s newest slugger homered on the same day as his powerful teammates for the first time, providing enough offense to carry Berrios to his third consecutive victory.
Donaldson, who missed all of August because of a strained calf, drilled a looping line drive into the Twins bullpen off St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez with two teammates aboard in the third inning.
Two innings later, Cruz — back in the lineup after missing two days because of a sore hip — blasted a first-pitch fastball from reliever Jake Woodford into the Cardinals bullpen, his first home run in September and 14th of the season. (He added a 15th late in Game 2 as well, moving him into a tie with the Angels’ Mike Trout for the major league lead.) And Sano capped the Twins’ scoring with a seventh-inning rocket to left off Ryan Helsley, his 10th of the season and only third with runners on base.
Luis Arraez also knocked in a run for the fourth time in five starts, lining a single in the fourth inning to score Willians Astudillo.
“It’s crazy times, but the guys keep showing up and doing their jobs well,” Baldelli said of his team, which has won seven of its past nine. “Very happy with what we’ve seen lately.”
It looked like more than enough for Berrios, who dominated the Cardinals on only two hits over five shutout innings. The Twins righthander suffered the only blemish on his day when he opened the sixth inning with a walk, then tried to throw a curveball in the dirt to Edman to get him to chase it. Edman did, and it wasn’t a strike — but he somehow put the barrel on the ball just off the ground, and golfed it into the seats in right field.
Still, Berrios looked sharp most of the game and improved to 4-3, the first time he’s been above .500 this year.