The Twins hunkered down in their clubhouse after their season unofficially ended Saturday, keeping the doors closed for more than 20 minutes as they said in private what needed to be said to each other.
“There’s a lot of emotion out there. A lot of guys are taking it personal, in a good way,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said after the Twins were formally eliminated from the postseason chase by a 5-1 loss to the Royals. “We have to live with it. … The curtain came down, so to speak, but it was a pretty good show.”
He means over the course of 161 games, one short of the actual finish, and not Saturday specifically. That they lasted to the final weekend represents undeniable progress, but having it slip away on a hit that traveled all of 45 feet, in a game that featured another listless performance at the plate and several unnerving breakdowns in the field, burned just the same.
“Just a lot of guys are hurting. It’s tough,” Joe Mauer said after the Twins lost for the 78th time, too many to catch the Astros or Angels. “We had other things in mind, and just came up a little short.”
They actually loaded the bases in the ninth inning and had a sympathetic announced crowd of 30,181 on its feet, but couldn’t score. “To load the bases and have a chance there, it shows you what we’re all about,” Mauer said. “I’m proud of the way the guys went about their business, but it stinks.”
Tommy Milone pumped his fist into his glove in exuberance as he stalked off the field after six strong innings, but the AL Central champion Royals struck for four runs just as soon as he was gone, largely helped by Twins mistakes. A one-out triple by Alcides Escobar set up the ugly inning for the Twins, and he scored the go-ahead run on Lorenzo Cain’s spinning roller between home and first, a seemingly harmless dribbler that turned into an RBI hit when Blaine Boyer’s throw glanced off Cain as he crossed first base.
The Twins asked the umpires to rule that Cain wasn’t in the proper baseline, but the umps disagreed. “It’s too bad to lose a game on a swinging bunt up the line,” Molitor said. “That’s one of my least favorite rules in the book.”
After a walk to Eric Hosmer, Jonny Gomes clubbed a line drive to third that whistled out of the shadows and ricocheted off Plouffe’s glove into left field, scoring Cain. And when Eddie Rosario, who has made a thrilling habit of throwing out baserunners, wound up and over-muscled a throw to the plate that bounded into the Royals dugout, Hosmer was sent home, too. An RBI double by Mike Moustakas widened the lead to four, and ultimately whittled the Twins’ hopes of a miraculous wild-card comeback to zero.
Hey, they played 161 meaningful games this season, leaving only Sunday’s 2 p.m. denouement for handshakes, see-you-next-years and a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” Maybe they’ll dance to it.
Nobody was dancing Saturday, though. Instead, Molitor called the team together for an impromptu postgame meeting.
“I had some things to say and I wanted to make sure Torii [Hunter] had an opportunity, too,” Molitor said. “The emotion you invest into this thing, all of a sudden it comes crashing down. … I feel bad for them, because there’s a lot of rawness out there.”
Still, considering how indifferent the four previous Septembers were — the Twins were out by Sept. 14 every season, always with at least 16 blanks to fire in empty ballparks — the 2015 Twins were a success. Milone, who gave up six hits and one run, gave them hope he will become a reliable part of future rotations. Brian Dozier provided a tying RBI single off Royals starter Yordano Ventura and even stole a base. Aaron Hicks doubled and scored a run, and Hunter broke up Ventura’s no-hit bid in the fifth inning with a sharp single.
“The success is in progress,” Molitor said. “The body of work was good. They left it out there, and we’ll be better for it in the long run.”