Rain forced the Twins to play Saturday afternoon, and sunshine might have cost them the game. Then Mike Pelfrey got caught in one of those sudden storms that have so often enveloped him this year.
Yeah, the weather’s not so good at Target Field these days.
The Twins scored only five runs in 21 innings Saturday and lost both ends of a doubleheader to the Angels, 4-3 in 12 innings during the day and 5-2 at night. Worse, by stretching their losing streak to five agonizing games at the worst possible time, the Twins (75-73) also fell another spot in the wild-card standings, with Los Angeles (76-72) catching and overtaking them.
Yet despite the gloom, their manager believes sunnier days are still ahead.
“You still believe — I know I do — that we’ve got a little run left,” Paul Molitor said optimistically. “It’s going to be a little tougher because we’re not taking advantage of the homestand the way we hoped, but we’ve just got to try to find a way to keep plugging away. There’s not going to be any quit in these guys, I know that.”
No, and they are fortunate that Houston’s own slump has kept the race reasonably close. The Astros (78-71) ended a five-game losing streak Saturday to move 2½ games ahead of the Twins and 1½ over the Angels.
But that won’t matter if the Twins don’t shake off the burden of pennant-race baseball soon.
“I think everyone’s feeling a bit of weight. It’s a new experience for a lot of these guys. Some of these at-bats, you can tell that they’re trying really hard,” Molitor said after the Twins fell to 1-5 on this critical 10-game homestand. “So we’re trying to keep sending the message: Do what you did that got you to this point, and then try to find a way to make it work.”
Nothing worked in Game 1, a makeup of Friday night’s rainout, though the Twins gave themselves several chances. That wasn’t the case in the nightcap, which Garrett Richards dominated from the start. The righthander held the Twins to five hits — four singles and Trevor Plouffe’s solo home run — and departed with one out to go. Huston Street finished off the Twins in both games, earning his AL-leading 37th and 38th saves.
Pelfrey matched Richards (14-11) for five scoreless innings, but his frustrating habit of coming apart all at once struck again the third time through the order. Five hits in the span of seven batters — including Albert Pujols’ two-out, two-run double, David Murphy’s two-out RBI single, and .186-hitting Chris Iannetta’s fourth home run off the Twins this season — knocked out Pelfrey (6-10) and handed Richards more than enough to work with.
The first game was more unusual, since none of Los Angeles’ four runs came on a hit. The decisive run scored on a sinking line drive hit right at shortstop Eduardo Escobar. But when the ball emerged from late-afternoon shadows into blinding sunlight, Escobar fielded the ball on one hop; by the time he recovered and threw home, Daniel Robertson had scored the go-ahead run.
“I didn’t see ball. It’s [hit] too hard,” Escobar said of Kole Calhoun’s sinking line drive, which bounced just inches in front of his glove. “Then the sun. I see it — whoa,” he said, demonstrating the defensive stab he made to catch the ball on a hop.
It ruined a Game 1 in which the Twins’ rookies did what they could, with Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano each contributing their specialties to produce their team’s runs. Rosario smacked his major league-high 14th triple to break up Andrew Heaney’s no-hit bid in the sixth inning, and Sano pummeled a fastball from Trevor Gott more than 450 feet into the second deck in left-center — a two-run shot, his 17th of the year, that tied the score in the seventh.
“Miggy picked us up a little bit. I think he hit that one pretty good,” Molitor said. But when the Twins followed that blast with back-to-back singles, “we had an opportunity — first and third, nobody out. And we couldn’t get a run across.”
They came close — Kurt Suzuki laid down a squeeze bunt that Gott pounced on and shoveled to the plate just in time to catch Plouffe at the plate by a split second. Escobar struck out and the Twins never scored again.
Meanwhile, the Angels were scratching out runs with little to work with. They scored one when the Twins couldn’t turn a slow roller into a double play, and another when Joe Mauer, after making a diving stop, threw late to the plate. Their first run came on a sacrifice fly, and the final run was unearned, the product of a Brian Dozier fielding error, a wild pitch, a bunt and Escobar’s now-you-see-it trap.
“We didn’t turn a double play. Tough play in the shadows. We couldn’t make a catch,” Molitor said. “We’ve seen four games come and go without a victory.”
Make it five.