The Twins drew a season-high nine walks Friday, and one of them seemed to win the game.
For the Blue Jays.
Joey Gallo drew a four-pitch walk in the sixth inning, but the Twins' promising rally abruptly died, as it almost always does this season, from an overabundance of baserunners. Michael A. Taylor took a called third strike — or at least, home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman said he did — and Donovan Solano grounded out, dooming the Twins to their sixth consecutive series-opening loss, 3-1 to Toronto at Target Field.
The missed opportunity to tie the score continued one of the most mystifying, random traits of the 2023 Twins: their failure to hit with the bases loaded. Saturday will mark two weeks since their most recent single in that situation; they are 0-for-12 with a walk and no other RBI with runners on every base since then.
"The whole game basically does come down to those big situations," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "That doesn't feel good. It's frustrating to all of us here."
In literally every other configuration of runners on base, the Twins are average or better, hitting at least .234 in each. With runners on first and third, they collectively are .391 hitters. But add that third baserunner, and you suffocate their offense. They are hitting only .111, 5-for-45 on the season, and are the only team in the game without an extra-base hit.
That inexplicable habit marred what was an otherwise intriguing duel between righthanders Kevin Gausman, a former All-Star making his 239th big-league start, and Louie Varland, making his 11th. Gausman had command problems all night, walking five batters, but kept them from being a problem, mostly, by striking out eight.
"It was an odd game because we didn't swing the bats that well, but we had some good at-bats," Baldelli said. "Had some guys on base. We've got to bring those guys around."
Varland's problem was more damaging: for the third time in six starts this year, he gave up at least a pair of home runs. The rookie's outing was spoiled in a seven-pitch sequence in the third inning.
With two outs, Kevin Kiermaier bashed a 1-2 slider 400 feet into the right-field seats, his fourth of the year, for the game's first run. George Springer followed three pitches later with a double into the right-field corner. And three pitches later, Varland left another slider in the middle of the plate. Bo Bichette pounded it 424 feet to straightaway center, the night's only big inning.
The Blue Jays, playing before a large and noisy crowd of Canadians among the announced 25,061 fans, might have had a couple more runs if not for some questionable baserunning. Twice the Twins caught Blue Jays straying too far off third base on grounders to the infield, turning potential runs into outs. And when Carlos Correa tagged Springer, his former Astros teammate out, he whirled and fired the ball to first base, where a surprised Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn't get back in time.
Still, those three runs were plenty against the Twins, who went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. After Gausman walked Kirilloff and Edouard Julien in the sixth inning, Kyle Garlick hit a one-out double into the left-field corner, scoring Kirilloff. Toronto manager John Schneider lifted Gausman for Swanson, who immediately walked Gallo, setting up the seemingly inevitable.
Taylor worked the count to 3-2, and believed he had walked when Swanson's pitch dipped under the strike zone. But Dreckman ruled it a strike, and though Taylor expressed his disagreement with the call, he dropped to 0-for-5 with bases loaded.
"It felt like I did what I wanted to do, got on base, took a quality at-bat. And to have it taken away is unfortunate. But that's the game. There's human error in it," Taylor said. "We were down by one if he calls that a ball. Then, who knows what happens?"
Instead, this happened: Solano ended the inning with an easy grounder to short, dropping him to 0-for-5 this year, too.
Taylor headed straight to the clubhouse after the following inning to watch the replay. And what did he learn?
"That I was right," he said with a shrug. "It was a ball."