CHICAGO – The Twins slugged 11 home runs over their three previous games. The White Sox entered having scored 66 runs over their previous nine.
So it would figure that these two surging teams full of mashers would lock up in a back-and-forth contest where pitchers worked out of every kind of jam until the White Sox broke a tie with two runs in the eighth inning off Taylor Rogers for a 3-1 victory.
The top two teams in the AL Central clashed. And it took a little deception to break the tie, as pinch hitter Adam Engel faked a bunt and slapped a single to center to put the White Sox ahead for good.
The White Sox took the first game of this intriguing four-game series, have won 21 of their past 26 games and now lead the Twins by two games in the AL Central. While there can be beauty in a 1-1 game, it was an agonizing night for Twins hitters as they went 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position — 0-for-3 with the bases loaded. They got the leadoff runner on base in each of the first six innings, with that runner scoring just once.
Nelson Cruz, who has been a nightmare to White Sox manager Rick Renteria, struck out and grounded out with the bases loaded. He also hit into an inning-ending double play with runners at the corners.
“Our at-bats were actually pretty good when we had the opportunities with the runners in scoring position,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said following a game that took 3 hours, 51 minutes to play. “They probably weren’t as good. We just weren’t able to get it done when there were guys out there waiting for a hit but that’s going to happen.”
And, just to pile on, the Twins walked 10 times Monday but scored just once. It the first time that happened to them since Sept. 2, 1998, during a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay in which the only run came on a bases-loaded walk to Otis Nixon.
So the Twins, playing without banged-up starters Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano, spent Monday tempting the baseball gods to strike them down for their lack of follow-through. And the thunder came down in the eighth when Baldelli handed the ball to Rogers and watched him walk the first two batters — his first pair of unintentional walks in an inning since July 21, 2018 — to bring up Engel. Baldelli went to the mound to set the defense.
Engel bunted the first pitch foul, then squared up a second time. As the Twins infield began to move in to pounce on the bunt, Engel pulled his bat back then struck his single to center. The play, called the Butcher Boy, drove in Yoan Moncada, then Tim Anderson added an RBI double to give the White Sox a 3-1 lead.
“They did a good job putting the ball in play,” Baldelli said. “We had some movement in our infield on the play and we have some guys crashing and some guys reading the play. There are a lot of things going on but a ground ball was hit right in an empty space. That does happen. They put the ball in play and made something happen with runners on base and sometimes that’s all you need and that’s what they were able to do.”
Righthander Jose Berrios dodged a couple bullets but held the White Sox to one run over five innings, on a bloop single by Nick Madrigal in the second. The Twins tied it in the fifth on Jorge Polanco’s two-out single to center.
The Twins entered the game second in baseball with a .286 batting average with runners in scoring position. Surely some runs were coming.
No, they weren’t.
“That’s some nights, where you go out there and things don’t go the way you want,” Berrios said. “That’s why they call it baseball. This game is really tough, really hard. But at the same time, we competed to go out there and do our work and have fun. Tonight, they did better than us. But we can turn the page.”