KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Twins botched their many chances, wasted a great pitching performance and blew a tantalizing chance to tighten the American League Central race. Yeah, that’s one way to look at Sunday’s frustrating 3-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
But here’s another: Over the weekend, the Twins added the formidable bat of Miguel Sano and the nasty arm of Ervin Santana to a roster that already was hanging on, however tenuously, to a playoff spot. And that talented pair, a midseason infusion of talent without giving anything up, looks like their ready to help win a few more of the remaining 80 games.
“A lot of things to be really encouraged about,” manager Paul Molitor said after Santana pitched like the $55 million man the Twins hoped he was. “… You hope that your boys take positive signs out of these games — which are, head-to-head, [that] they held their own. Could have won all four.”
Maybe should have, considering they split with Kansas City despite going 6-for-34 with runners in scoring position this weekend, and 1-for-9 on both Saturday and Sunday. “Look at the scoreboard — what’d they have, four hits?” Brian Dozier said. “We outhit them [and] we outpitched them.”
They did, at least until Lorenzo Cain made the Twins pay for wasting all those chances, and for pulling Santana after eight innings. Cain, walked by Blaine Boyer, scored the winning run from first base on a bottom-of-the-ninth double that Eric Hosmer, facing Aaron Thompson, rocketed into the right-field corner. But the clubhouse feeling after watching Santana allow only three hits over eight innings, after observing Sano clobber an RBI double off the center-field wall, work a 2-2 count until he drew a walk, and lace a single off Royals closer Greg Holland, was a mixture of short-term frustration and long-term optimism.
“Beast,” summed up Torii Hunter about the 22-year-old DH, who has delighted Molitor with his heady approach to hitting. And how about the 32-year-old Santana, Torii? “Magic.”
Well, maybe the magic elixir of rested legs and an arm that doesn’t have a half-season of wear on it. But even with three months of anticipation built up, Santana exceeded expectations in his Twins debut.
The veteran righthander, exiled by an 80-game steroids suspension before he could provide any return on his free-agent contract, gave the Twins exactly what they paid for Sunday, giving up only three hits over eight innings. Even the hits weren’t exactly scalded: a ground ball that sneaked between infielders up the middle, a high fly that curled around the foul pole and landed in the front row and an infield single.
“Every guy who got to second, I wanted to see what they said — how he looked. Everybody said, ‘[he] picked up right where he left off. Still nasty,’ ” Dozier said. “I thought he got stronger. I mean, 95-96 [miles per hour] in the eighth inning [is] pretty impressive.”
Or maybe it’s just routine for Santana; certainly that was the what-me-worry vibe he had during the game — he even stuck his tongue out at Hosmer at one point, daring him to try to steal third base — and afterward, too.
“It was good. Everything was good,” Santana said. “One mistake, but I kept the ball down for the most part.”
Well, maybe two mistakes: an 0-2 fastball that former Twins catcher Drew Butera grounded into center field to score a run, and a 1-1 fastball that Gordon popped into the seats. Other than that, though, Santana was efficient and occasionally ruthless with a diving slider.
Sano figures to see a few more of those as word gets around, but for now, he’s quickly become a run-producer in the middle of the lineup. Facing lefty Danny Duffy, Sano batted fifth for the first time, a move that immediately paid off when he hammered a double over Cain’s head in center field.
“It was solid. That’s two times now with men on second base and no outs where he’s really stayed inside a pitch. They’re trying to get him to roll it over, and he stays inside and hits it off the wall in center field,” Molitor said. “He’s just really coming along very well, four games in.”
Two big additions. They might be more important than two tough losses this weekend.