HOUSTON – They didn’t seem so unusual, just good contact on a handful of not-so-fast pitches left in the wrong place. To the Twins, home runs by Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar and Aaron Hicks prompted regrets that they all came with nobody on base, a missed opportunity to close the gap.
To the Astros, the three blasts, all rocketed to deep left field, were unthinkable.
They came off Cy Young Award candidate and All-Star Game starter Dallas Keuchel, who until last Monday, had not allowed a home run in Minute Maid Park all season. Matter of fact, when Dozier’s and Escobar’s cannon shots put the Twins ahead 2-0, it was the first time that Keuchel had trailed by two runs at home this year.
No wonder he was annoyed after the game, despite improving to 17-6 on the year and 13-0 at home.
“I don’t want to give up home runs,” Keuchel said. “I don’t want to give up runs, period. So I think if anybody’s satisfied with giving up runs, they’re not taking their job very seriously.”
The Twins took him seriously, and it paid off with three home runs, the first time in the lefthander’s career that he had given up so many in Houston.
“He pitched very well, mixed his pitches, changed speeds it seemed like every pitch,” Dozier said. “But to be honest, a lot of the guys felt like they saw him pretty good. I don’t think he really had command of his hard slider. But he still did what he does, nibble, nibble, nibble. He’s really tough.”
Especially on Miguel Sano. The rookie slugger struck out all four times he faced Keuchel, who finished with a dozen whiffs. Sano has struck out six consecutive times, and in nine of his past 10 at-bats.
Trevor Plouffe stood on third base for more than a minute after being called out in the sixth inning, looking as if he was refusing to accept umpire Paul Schrieber’s out call. When he finally stalked off the bag, with fans loudly booing, Plouffe stretched his arms in disbelief, incredulous that the call was going to stand. Heck, he had proof he was right, if only someone would listen.
“You could see the footprint” of third baseman Jed Lowrie, an inch or two off the base, Plouffe protested. “I guess it’s hard to prove it was his.”
The play — a sacrifice bunt attempt by Escobar, trying to move two runners up with no outs in the seventh — was a big one for the Twins, since it represented a chance to add to their 2-0 lead. But Escobar’s bunt rolled directly to first baseman Luis Valbuena, who threw it to Lowrie, backpedaling toward third.
Plouffe doesn’t dispute the throw beat him. But Lowrie’s foot wasn’t on the bag, he insists. He waited on the base, assuming manager Paul Molitor would challenge the call. But the Twins could find no clear replay showing it either way, and Schrieber would not allow the footprint to be entered into evidence.
• Molitor said he had no objection to General Manager Terry Ryan’s decision not to promote pitching prospect Jose Berrios this month. “He asked me … how I envisioned his role here. I just told him, I trust his call on that. He’s seen enough guys, and he knows how to protect people,” Molitor said. “There’s a real possibility of [risk in] asking a guy to do something that he’s not familiar with. It was really an unknown to what we were going to get. The more I thought about it … the more I concurred they were doing the right thing for that young man.”
• Hicks played left field for the first time since last September, moving over to allow veteran Torii Hunter to play right field.