Ground balls are great, Trevor Hildenberger said last weekend, when they are hit right at fielders. But, the Twins rookie reliever added knowingly, “I think those even out at some point.”
As far as he, Brian Dozier and the Twins are concerned, the account balance must be back to zero by now.
Four Toronto batters put balls into play off Hildenberger in the eighth inning Saturday night; three hit routine grounders in Dozier’s general direction at second base and one lifted a pop-up. And somehow, that soft contact constituted a game-breaking rally, because the Twins turned none of them into outs.
The Blue Jays rode Marco Estrada’s arm, Josh Donaldson’s bat and that motley collection of bloops and bleeders to a 7-2 victory at Target Field, one that — combined with the Angels’ 2-0 victory over Texas — shrank the Twins’ lead for the AL’s second wild card to one game over Los Angeles.
“They just hit them where they weren’t. The ground balls found holes, the pop-up found a hole,” Hildenberger said. “I don’t feel too bad — my job is to throw strikes, make them put it in play, try to induce some weak contact, and I feel like I did that.”
Trouble is, Estrada induced even more, keeping the Twins off balance with a brilliant mix of low-90s fastballs and high-70s changeups that produced an astonishing 11 pop-ups in the infield.
“He’s one of those guys, when he’s got command of those pitches, you get in between,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said of the Toronto righthander. “We saw some underwater-type swings — we couldn’t slow ourselves down enough to make good contact. And when you get out front, you’re going to have a tendency to get under the ball.”
Estrada (9-8) gave up only three hits in eight innings, a single by Dozier and home runs by Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar. Meanwhile, Donaldson smashed two more homers — that’s 17 in his career vs. the Twins, and three in two nights — and a pair of singles, too.
Adalberto Mejia gave up three runs in three innings in his first action since straining his biceps Aug. 9, but Molitor said the rookie lefthander “absolutely” deserved another start, presumably Thursday at Detroit. “I don’t have any qualms about him going back out there. I thought his velocity was there, his slider was good, his changeup — they all played,” Molitor said.
The Twins kept the score close into the eighth, when Dozier and Hildenberger’s nightmare inning decided the game.
Pinch hitter Ezequiel Carrera led off with a grounder up the middle that Dozier barely got a glove on but had no play. Donaldson was next, and with Dozier shifted to the third-base side of the infield, he hit a sharp grounder that Dozier dove for but couldn’t quite reach.
When Donaldson stole second, Molitor opted to intentionally walk Justin Smoak to load the bases. With Jose Bautista up, the Twins once again moved Dozier to the third-base side, but Bautista promptly hit a pop-up to shallow right field, an easy play for Dozier had he been in his normal position — but about 2 feet out of his reach as he raced back, scoring Carrera. Worse, Dozier kicked the ball as he tried to slow down, and Donaldson scored as well.
The infield then shifted toward right for Kendrys Morales, and Hildenberger induced a routine grounder to shortstop — where no infielder was stationed.
“I think [Hildenberger’s] point’s accurate,” Molitor said. “His stuff was the same, we just didn’t get the results.”