CLEVELAND - The Twins’ pursuit of Craig Kimbrel ended about two hours before they made a compelling case for needing him.
Minnesota offered the free-agent closer a two-year contract and believed it was a competitive proposal, according to a source with knowledge of the team’s thinking. But the Twins, like other teams, balked at guaranteeing a third or fourth season for a 31-year-old relief pitcher, and as they played Wednesday night, they learned they had been outbid by the Cubs’ three-year contract with an option for a fourth year, reportedly worth at least $43 million.
Then it started raining on the Twins, in more ways than one.
Blake Parker, who stood to lose his role as the Twins’ de facto closer if Kimbrel chose Minnesota, allowed a game-tying, two-run homer to Jordan Luplow after a 1 hour, 43 minute weather delay, then surrendered a tiebreaking homer to Roberto Perez. Tyler Duffey gave up an insurance-run homer to Francisco Lindor an inning later and the Twins, ahead 5-1 around the time the Kimbrel news arrived, fell to the Indians 9-7.
“I didn’t have my command of any of my pitches [Wednesday]. Fastballs right down the middle,” said Parker, who absorbed his first blown save after going 8-for-8 over the first two months. “It’s not something I enjoy. I definitely need to get to the corners, because the middle’s not where you can pitch in this league.”
Bullpen breakdowns happen even to the best, and this was only the fifth time this season the Twins had blown a game they led after six innings. But it couldn’t have come at a more uncomfortable moment for the team’s front office. The Twins, their lead in the AL Central still wide at 9½ games but now two games slimmer than it was when they arrived here, had contacted Kimbrel’s agent last week in an effort to reinforce a bullpen that has been much improved from a year ago but still lacks a proven closer.
On a night when both team’s bullpens were battered a bit, it’s the Twins who now appear to need to look elsewhere for help, if their strong start is to turn into a memorable finish.
“Some days you play well and don’t get the win, and it works the other way, too,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We did some good things tonight, but it just wasn’t going to be our night.”
As for Parker, who has allowed a home run in three of his past four outings, Baldelli said, “He’s a professional. I know he’s going to bounce back fine.”
The Twins appeared ready to bounce back from Tuesday’s 5-2 loss. Byron Buxton, Nelson Cruz and Jorge Polanco all homered in the first five innings, and the Twins held a 6-5 lead through six once the rain arrived, delaying the game by 1 hour, 43 minutes. Buxton’s blast in the second was the longest home run of his career, a 454-foot rocket that landed three rows from the top of the bleachers and brought home three runs.
That sort of power display normally results in a lopsided Twins victory, but Martin Perez couldn’t take advantage.
For the second consecutive start, the lefthander was hit hard, allowing five runs on six hits and a couple of walks. He managed only one strikeout, too, a season low. And when Luplow doubled home a run with two outs in the fifth inning and Jose Ramirez followed with an RBI single, Perez’s night was done.
“Two games does not mean a lot,” Perez said hopefully. “We’re still in first place, and we’ll come [Thursday] and do our job and play the game that we know we can play.”
The Indians, reeling from the news earlier in the day that scheduled starter Carlos Carrasco has a blood disorder and has left the team to seek treatment, turned to its bullpen to try to fill his spot. Initially, their series of relievers were little match for the Twins’ extra-base-hungry offense. But once Luplow and Perez finished off Cleveland’s rally, the Indians had Brad Hand — ironically, a Minnesota native — to pitch the ninth and earn his 18th consecutive save.