BOSTON — It's hard to know if this is the new normal for the 2021 Twins. But the signs aren't good.
Minnesota's week of East Coast misery came to a merciful end Thursday night with the worst drubbing of the bunch, a 12-2 embarrassment in Fenway Park. Bobby Dalbec homered twice for the Red Sox, Rafael Devers once, and if there was comfort to be taken by the overmatched visitors at all, it was this: They didn't get no-hit.
That seemed no lock for the first hour, given the pedigree of their opponent: Chris Sale and his long history of beating the Twins, more than any active pitcher except Justin Verlander. Sale issued a first-inning walk to Brent Rooker but otherwise almost nonchalantly retired the first 14 Twins hitters he faced, even striking out Nick Gordon, Andrelton Simmons and Rob Refsnyder on the minimum nine pitches in the third inning.
"I don't remember if I've been part of an immaculate inning. I don't think so," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Nine pitches, nine strikes. He was very sharp today. He looked like his old self."
Sale's shot at history finally ended at his feet, when Ryan Jeffers chopped a slow dribbler up the third-base line, a ball that Sale waited futilely to hop foul. Two pitches later, Willians Astudillo punctuated the moment by blasting an errant slider off a billboard above the Green Monster seats, and the Twins had a face-saving score.
But if the lineup salvaged something Thursday, the pitching — oh, the pitching — did not. A dozen runs allowed in the finale, seven driven home by Dalbec, sent them home a chastened bunch, having allowed at least six runs, and usually more, in all six games at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, five of them losses. The Twins were outscored 53-28, with responsibility almost equally divided between a jerry-rigged rotation (29 runs) and a ragtag bullpen (24).
"You have to execute pitches continually. If you start scattering the ball, you're probably not going to lose by a run," Baldelli said. "You're going to really struggle to play at the top of your game."
Things got so bad, Astudillo pitched an inning that was either comical or dismal in its half-speed abdication. Kyle Schwarber passively accepted a four-pitch walk, reluctantly jogged to second base when a hobbled Jeffers slowly chased a pitch that reached the screen, then generously remained on third base when Gordon's throw from third base got past Miguel Sano.
But Astudillo on the mound is a sideshow. The Twins' pitching staff, stripped and savaged by trades, demotions and breakdowns — and with a whopping 11 pitchers on the injured list — is not supposed to be. Yet some of the rookies and fill-ins appeared largely powerless to stop opponents from scoring this week, admittedly against two of the hotter and stronger teams in the American League.
John Gant got Thursday's start, and for the second time on this trip, allowed scoring at a run-an-inning clip, four in four this time. Dalbec's first home run of the night in the second was the biggest blow, made worse by the back-to-back walks Gant issued to start the inning.
"You never want to give those free passes. But basically, it all came down to one big swing," said Gant, who has allowed 14 runs in 16 innings as a Twin. "The man of the night was ol' Bobby Dalbec."
Kyle Barraclough followed, turning two hits and a walk into another Boston run. Then came righthander Edgar Garcia, whose five-out tenure included a little of everything: four hits, three walks, a wild pitch, a hit batter, two home runs and seven runs.
"A big part of being a pitcher is taking some licks and getting right back on that bump," Gant philosophized. Not much else the Twins could do this week.