A 2-4 homestand could not have ended any worse for the Twins.
A long Thursday night at Target Field ended with a game in which they were outslugged by the Washington Nationals in a 12-6 loss while suffering another injury. And then the Twins had to travel to the land of their rivals for a high-stakes series.
The Twins figured to be tired and ornery when they landed in Cleveland at around 3 a.m. Friday for their big weekend series — leading the Indians by only 3½ games in the AL Central. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz reminded those listening after the game that the Twins have responded to challenges all season, so they know what must be done.
“We find we are by the wall and we push back,” Cruz said. “Tomorrow will be a good example. We all believe in each other and this is what we are here for. Anyone you ask, we want to be in this situation. We want to be in this important game. We are going to get a few guys back tomorrow, so that’s a good thing for us.”
It will require a quick personality change, for the 3-hour, 45-minute game Thursday — following a 50-minute rain delay — was as loud as it was long. The Nationals had seven extra-base hits in the first six innings and hit a whopping 13 pitches that generated exit velocities of at least 100 miles per hour. They knocked out starter Kyle Gibson in the fifth as they took a 6-3 lead, then tore into Kohl Stewart in the sixth for four more runs.
“It wasn’t pretty out there in any way,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You can say that all the way around. But that’s OK. We have ourselves a shot and we had a chance.”
The Twins did have a moment to make things interesting. They scored three runs in the eighth, two coming on a home run by Jonathan Schoop, and had the bases loaded with one out. Cruz came to the plate to face former Twins closer Fernando Rodney, but the 42-year-old changeup master struck out the 39-year-old slugger swinging. Jorge Polanco came up as a pinch hitter, but he struck out, too.
Washington’s Yan Gomes then belted a two-out, two-run homer off Trevor Hildenberger in the ninth, and that was that.
But it was an interesting series of events after Washington took a 10-3 lead after six innings and both managers started pulling regulars.
“We took a few of our guys out of the game,” Baldelli said. “The game obviously wasn’t going according to plan and we wanted to make sure to get some of those guys off their feet in a wide-margin game.”
Gibson had a chance to make a statement after recovering from ulcerative colitis. He hit 95 mph a few times in the first inning, but Anthony Rendon homered off him to open the scoring. Eddie Rosario tied the score with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning, but Gibson gave up two runs in the third.
Cruz mashed a 454-foot homer into the restaurant above the batter’s eye in the bottom of third, but Gibson (13-7) fell apart in the fifth giving up a leadoff homer to Adam Eaton followed by a walk and an RBI triple.
Patrick Corbin (12-7) held the Twins to three runs over six innings.
Twins shortstop Ehire Adrianza suffered a right oblique strain while fouling off a pitch in the third. He eventually left the game and might miss the rest of the regular season. It’s the last thing the Twins need, as Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Cave all are sidelined and Byron Buxton out for the season.
But Cruz hinted that Friday’s lineup against the Indians could look healthier. “It’s huge,” he said. “I don’t think you want to see anyone out, but if they are not there, we have to play with what we’ve got.”