CHICAGO – The Twins are making it increasingly apparent how critical playing at home may be to their chances of advancing past the playoffs’ first round. Unfortunately for the Twins, they’re proving that point with their play on the road.
Minnesota lost for the 10th time in its past 12 road games Friday, scraping together only three singles while wasting Rich Hill’s finest start as a Twin and falling to the Cubs at chilly Wrigley Field, 1-0.
“1-0 losses probably feel a little worse than a typical loss,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. “We kind of went into the game with the feeling [that] with the cooler weather and the wind blowing straight in, it would be tough to score runs.”
True, though the wind was no factor on the other side of town, where the Twins lost three of four games and scored only 11 runs. This one simply lacked any offensive energy at all. In a battle of soft-tossers — no pitch reached even 89 mph through the first 7½ innings, while the starters were in the game — Cubs righthander Kyle Hendricks frustrated the Twins all night.
“The curveball was certainly prominent. [His] changeup is a very good pitch,” Baldelli said. “Just when you think you know what a guy like Hendricks is going to do, he breaks out a couple of other tricks on the mound. One of those guys, [since] he doesn’t throw very hard, you might go out there in an aggressive state of mind.”
It looked like that might pay off in the first inning. Byron Buxton led off the game with a line-drive single, and he reached third base after a groundout and a wild pitch. But Miguel Sano grounded out to end the threat, and Hendricks simply never allowed the Twins another one. Using an array of changeups, curveballs and sinkers that moved in all directions amid a steady wind at his back, Hendricks limited the Twins to a line single by Jake Cave in the second inning — he was thrown out trying to steal second base — and a popup by Josh Donaldson that fell in short right field as three Cubs fielders raced toward it.
“You really have to respect him,” Baldelli said of Hendricks, who retired 12 straight hitters between the Twins’ final two hits.
Even when Jeremy Jeffress relieved him in the ninth, the Cubs put down any Minnesota hopes of a rally in style. Buxton drew a leadoff walk, but before he could try to steal second, Donaldson hit a sharp ground ball to second baseman Nico Hoerner, who flipped it to Javier Baez to start a slick and deflating double play.
Hill did his best to match Hendricks, retiring 21 of the last 23 batters he faced, the lone exceptions being similarly harmless singles. But the first three batters he faced proved to be his undoing, even as he did a masterful job of limiting the damage from the problem he created.
“He was just cruising tonight,” Baldelli said. “He was able to find himself early on. I don’t think he was totally comfortable when he first took the mound. Took a quick minute to find what he wanted, but once he did, he was able to keep them off balance for a long, long stretch.”
That quick minute, though, was enough to beat the Twins. Anthony Rizzo led off the first inning with a walk, and Kris Bryant did the same. Willson Contreras followed by lining a high fastball into center field, just to Buxton’s right, and Rizzo scored the game’s lone run. But Hill induced Kyle Schwarber into hitting a hard ground ball to Donaldson, who dived into third base to tag out Bryant. Then he struck out Baez and got Jason Heyward to pop up, and the 40-year-old settled into a dominating night.
“Understanding how to pitch, how to be myself, make pitches when I need to, stick with the curveball, make sure I used the fastball in the right counts, accelerate, decelerate, change arm slots — all those things that experience has taught me,” said the 40-year-old, MLB’s oldest pitcher. “If I haven’t figured it out by now, I shouldn’t be pitching.”