CHICAGO – Phil Hughes was right.
“I felt like tonight could have been seven or eight shutout for me if a few things happen differently in the fourth inning,” he said.
It was set up to be the latest in a run of encouraging performances by the Twins’ staff ace before self-inflicted damage allowed the White Sox back in the game. Then J.B. Shuck, a pest to the Twins all night, lofted a sacrifice fly to center in the eighth inning that enabled the winning run to score in the Twins’ 3-2 loss to Chicago at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday night.
The Twins jumped on White Sox righthander Jeff Samardzija for two runs in the first inning and tried to ride that to their fifth victory in six games. But Adam LaRoche was leading off the fourth, and Hughes is still smarting from a homer he gave up to the Chicago first baseman on April 12. That, plus the fact Hughes’ stuff wasn’t at its best Friday, made him be careful with LaRoche, and he walked him.
Two flyouts later, Shuck tapped a Hughes pitch between first base and the mound. “A PFP play from spring training,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
PFP stands for pitchers’ fielding practice, and Hughes went against everything he worked on in sunny Florida, failing to come up with the ball. The misplay was ruled an infield single, one that put runners at the corners.
“I wasn’t sure if Joe [Mauer] was coming for the ball or covering first,” Hughes said, “so I wasn’t sure if I should keep going or go for the ball. You really have one chance and I caught an in-between hop and couldn’t make the play.”
Geovany Soto’s double down the left field line scored both runners to tie the score 2-2. Walks will haunt. Missed plays will haunt.
At this point, the midgame offensive drought was at full force. Samardzija (4-2) zoned in on home plate, Twins hitters began chasing breaking balls and the outs piled up.
The All-Star righthander retired 17 consecutive batters, six on strikeouts. Brian Dozier, Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer all struck out swinging in the sixth inning. The Twins went 5⅔ innings between hits.
Samardzija went eight innings, giving up two runs on three hits and walk with nine strikeouts. After getting a run-scoring double from Mauer and a sacrifice fly by Trevor Plouffe in the first inning — set up when Mauer stole third — the Twins were done scoring.
“The sinker was moving like crazy,” Hunter said. “The cutter was moving like crazy. Explosive fastball, slider, changeup and splitty. I mean he gave us every pitch with max effort.
“He bulldogged today. And he’s one of those guys you say, ‘He drives a Mercedes too.’ You tip your cap and move on.”
The score was still at 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning when Twins lefthander Aaron Thompson (0-1) issued a one-out walk to pinch hitter Gordon Beckham. Michael Tonkin came in to face Alexei Ramirez, who slapped a single to right that enabled Beckham to race to third. That put him in position to score on Shuck’s fly ball. Shuck wasn’t even in the original lineup; he replaced Avisail Garcia, who was scratched with a sore right knee.
Hughes, calling his stuff “mediocre,” went seven innings, giving up two runs on seven hits and the one walk with three strikeouts. Not a shabby outing at all, but he’s kicking himself.
“The whole inning comes down to that Shuck dribbler that I looked like a typical pitcher on and booted it and that kind of prolonged that inning,” he said, “and I eventually give up a ball down the line.’’