TORONTO – Whatever the exchange rate is between Canadian and American dollars, it can’t compare to the starkly different values of hits in Rogers Centre. As if the titanic home runs, lengthy rallies, noisy crowds and that deafening hockey-goal horn aren’t enough, this is a place where a Blue Jays pop-up can be more valuable than a Twins grand slam.
The Twins, down five runs after seven innings, scored six over the final two, most notably on the second grand slam of Max Kepler’s career. But what could have been a memorable pennant-race rally, the sort of comeback victory that galvanizes a contender for the stretch run, was foiled when Josh Donaldson, appropriately wearing “Bringer of Rain” on his back, hit … a puny pop fly, 100 feet into the air.
Three Twins converged, none managed to catch it, and Toronto rode Donaldson’s “double” to a 10-9 victory that was as wrenching for the visitors as it was gleeful for the 45,591 who packed the place.
“We were on the wrong side of a lot of things that happened,” manager Paul Molitor said. “It’s a loss, but if there’s any solace to be had, it’s that we kept playing to give ourselves a chance.”
Molitor notably gave John Curtiss a chance, about 16 hours following his big-league debut, by having him pitch the eighth after Kepler’s blast pulled the Twins within 8-7. It was a show of confidence in a pitcher the Twins hope might be a critical part of their bullpen, but also a reflection of the scotch tapeand-paper clip approach Molitor has to take with his Brandon Kintzler-free relief corps.
“We’re a little bit inexperienced out there,” Molitor said. “You’re choosing between a guy who’s got two days or two months.” Catcher Mitch Garver was making his first big-league start behind the plate, adding to the callow battery.
Still, the Twins had high spirits as they took the field in the eighth, having survived Marco Estrada’s stingy pitching and a six-run, six-hit fifth inning by Toronto that Donaldson punctuated with a second-deck home run. Kepler’s homer, a sign he is fully healthy after some salmon-induced food poisoning in Chicago, changed the Twins’ attitude about their day.
“It added some energy to the dugout,” Kepler said. “Everyone was drained today. … It was kind of a momentum changer.”
Not for long, though. Curtiss walked Ezequiel Carrera on four pitches. He immediately stole second, then took third when Garver sailed the throw into center field. The Twins infield moved in, the outfield moved back, and the Blue Jays took advantage.
Donaldson skied a pop-up about 40 feet behind first base. Kennys Vargas turned toward foul ground, and had to circle back as the ball came down in fair territory. Kepler came running in from deep right, but slowed as the ball neared the ground. Brian Dozier hustled over from the middle of the field, but had no chance.
“It was catchable, I think,” Molitor judged. “[Outfielders] have to be aggressive, given the fact the infielders have to retreat from an abnormal position. [And] Kennys got a little turned around.”
The ball fell and bounced high off the artificial turf as Carrera scored Toronto’s ninth run and Donaldson reached second base. A grounder moved him to third, and when Curtiss bounced a slider, Donaldson scored on the wild pitch.
“You give up 10,” Molitor shrugged, “it makes it tough.”
Still, the Twins charged again in the ninth, when Zack Granite hit a leadoff single and Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak allowed an Eduardo Escobar grounder to roll between his legs for a two-base error. Joe Mauer, who has six hits in the series’ first two games, then smacked what might have been a tying extra-base hit up the middle, but Toronto closer Roberto Osuna snagged the hard one-hopper before it go past him, and turned it into a double play.
“It had a chance,” Molitor said. “The guy made a nice play to recover. Close to being up the middle, and they end up getting two.”
It’s that kind of place.