With no fans in the stands, Max Kepler’s voice was loud and clear as he called for Edwin Encarnacion’s fly ball in the ninth inning. So center fielder Jake Cave decelerated and allowed his right fielder make the play.
But the ball squirted out of Kepler’s glove and fell to the grass. Encarnacion was on first from the error, and it seemed inevitable that the run was going to score, given that the Twins spent most of the game playing with fire or sticking a finger into an electrical outlet.
Well, three runs ended up scoring, pushing the White Sox to an 8-5 win and shoving the Twins losing streak to six games.
Encarnacion was replaced by pinch runner Yolmer Sanchez, who advanced to third on a single by James McCann. Robert came to the plate and hit a breaking ball from Taylor Rogers just inside the left field foul line for an RBI double. Then a two-run single by Nomar Mazara increased the lead to three runs.
“Nothing is coming easy,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
As a result, Baldelli addressed the Twins after the game to try to help them get out of their rut. He wouldn’t discuss what was said, but the fact that he felt it was time to say something shows the sense of urgency there is to turn the slump around as the abbreviated season heads into its final month.
“Today it was just me,” Baldelli said. “We don’t do this very often. You win a bunch of games in a row, you don’t come in a address the group. You lose a bunch of games in a row you do not come in an address the group. It’s just something you do when you feel that it is the right time.”
Lefthander Rich Hill failed to get out of the fourth inning after being given a 4-0 lead. The Twins scored three runs in the second inning with the help of three White Sox errors. Then Miguel Sano crushed a home run to left in the third, and the Twins seemed to be on their way.
Not so fast.
Hill allowed the first two batters of the third reach base before escaping the inning. He then walked the bases loaded in the fourth, and inning that stood out for what happened right after that.
Danny Mendick hit a soft liner that was caught, then dropped, by Luis Arraez. None of the runners took off, so Arraez was able to throw to second for the force play. Jorge Polanco then threw to Miguel Sano at first, who then fired back to Polanco.
The Twins were trying to get as many outs as possible, but the mistake came when Arraez flipped to second instead of throwing home. Both the runners on second and third were on the bags and would have been forced out. Instead, only the runner on first was forced off base, and the batter was safe at first, so the bases were still loaded. The umpires huddled for a few moments before ruling that only the runner on first, Luis Robert, was out. The Twins asked for replay to make sure, but it verified their call.
It mattered on the next play, as Engel slapped a two run single. It was 4-2, and Baldelli went to the mound to replace Hill with 17 outs to go.
The bullpen, however, continued what Hill started. Chicago had four straight inning in which they got the first two batters on base. That’s playing with a blowtorch, given how the White Sox offense is one of the best in the game. And the Twins were finally burned in the sixth when Jose Abreu hit a two-out, two-run double that tied the score at 4-4.
The Twins regained the lead on Jake Cave’s RBI single in the sixth, but the White Sox kept coming, getting a tying home run by Robert off Trevor May, the rookie’s 10th of the season.
“Strikes, throw strikes,” Hill said. “Throw strikes and you will be successful.”
One result of the bullpen being asked to pick up the rotation so much could be that relievers are feeling the pressure.
“That’s something that we want to change,” Baldelli said. “As opposed to everyone feeling like that, no one should feel like that. This is a team. This is baseball.”