For all the creative ways the Twins have found to lose this season, they have identified at least one reliably effective way to win: Hit home runs. Lots of them.
Unfortunately, the strategy doesn’t work when you give up more than you hit.
Minnesota slugged three home runs on Sunday, but the Rays crushed four, including two apiece by Logan Morrison and Evan Longoria, and Tampa Bay walked off with its third victory in the four-game series, 7-5 at Target Field.
“They’ve got some hot hitters over there, no doubt about that,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “You make mistakes, you have to pay.”
For all the long balls, though, the biggest mistake was a ball that fell about 10 feet short of the fence, a leadoff ninth-inning double by Steven Souza Jr. that triggered the game-winning rally. Souza sailed Kevin Jepsen’s 3-2 fastball to the base of the wall, and when it skipped between Byron Buxton’s legs and bounced away, Souza wound up on third base. When a pair of walks loaded the bases, Brad Miller hit a one-out sacrifice fly, and Longoria followed with an RBI single, handing Tampa Bay its sixth series victory in Target Field’s seven seasons.
Morrison homered in the final three games of the series, and Longoria in every one, and their four-pack of rocket launches Sunday, blows that traveled more than 1,600 feet combined, helped the Rays set a franchise record with 11 homers in four days in Minneapolis.
“He seemed to keep coming up,” Molitor said. “He hit them everywhere. … If he got a mistake, he didn’t miss it.”
Wait, 11 homers in four games? Those numbers seem awfully familiar to the Twins, who matched them exactly one week earlier against the Royals and Mariners, a power surge similarly led by Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer that lifted Minnesota to four consecutive victories.
Being on the other side isn’t nearly as much fun, the Twins discovered, after losing for the sixth time in seven games since that streak was stopped.
For the Twins, Byung Ho Park battered a Drew Smyly pitch deep into the left-field stands in the third inning, breaking a 23-day drought since his last one. Robbie Grossman followed with his third of the season, the fourth time the year the Twins have had back-to-back blasts. And after Longoria put the Rays ahead in the top of the eighth, Eduardo Nunez tied the score once again moments later with his seventh homer of the year, a line shot into the flower bed in left field.
Three home runs usually triggers a postgame dance party in the Twins’ clubhouse; they were 4-1 when hitting three or more this season. But they also were 1-9 when giving up at least three, and that’s what happened Sunday — for some strange reason.
Tyler Duffey was the least likely Twins starter to be victimized that way; not since his major league debut last Aug. 5 in Toronto had he given up more than one homer in a game. But Morrison jumped on a 1-0 fastball in the second inning and a 1-2 curve in the fourth, producing a couple of no-doubt homers and the fourth multi-home run game of his career.
With the Twins leading 4-3 in the sixth, however, Longoria went to work, smacking a shot into the right-field seats off Duffey to tie the score, then clubbing Brandon Kintzler’s second pitch of the eighth inning into the bullpen to break the tie.
The one that Duffey gave up? He’s still not sure how it happened.
“I wanted to throw the sinker. Somehow he got underneath that ball and shot it to right center,” Duffey said. “He’s just locked in. I don’t know who they’re playing next, [but] we’ll see if it continues.”