KANSAS CITY, MO. – Ervin Santana “can stand tall,” his manager said, for a successful 2016 season, and maybe that’s true. But it’s hard to look tall when you’re standing in such a deep basement.
As usual, Santana pitched well enough to win Wednesday, and as usual, he didn’t. Minnesota suffered its 102nd loss of the season, 5-2 to the Royals, tying the 1982 Twins for most defeats in a season since the franchise moved to the Twin Cities in 1961. With four games remaining — including Thursday’s series finale at Kauffman Stadium, where the Twins are 0-9 this year — all that’s left to establish is how far they will extend that sorry record.
“It’s just tough to keep losing games late like that,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said, but he’s beyond used to it by now. This time, Kendrys Morales slugged a tiebreaking double just inside the foul line in the eighth inning, Alex Gordon added a two-run single, and the Twins lost for the 10th time in 11 games.
It spoiled yet another competitive outing from Santana, who finished the season with a 3.38 ERA — best by a Twins starter since Johan Santana in 2007, and second best of his 12-year career — yet took part in only eight victories among his 30 starts.
“If I was Ervin Santana,” Molitor said, “I would feel good about what I contributed in trying to give his best from Day 1 all the way through his last start.”
The Twins lost seven of Santana’s final eight starts, despite the righthander’s 3.21 ERA in that span. Choosing to pitch after Molitor said he could skip his last start, Santana allowed only Eric Hosmer’s two-run homer in the third inning before leaving after five innings and 77 pitches. Unflappable all season despite the way the Twins squandered his contributions, Santana said he rated his season as “good,” even though “we’re trying to do our best to win games, but it’s become difficult.”
It’s nearly impossible when the offense goes into such an extended tailspin. Minnesota scored only two runs Wednesday, on Kennys’ Vargas’ sixth-inning home run, yet had to consider the output a major success. That’s because Vargas’ two-run blast into the right-field fountains off reliever Kevin McCarthy marked the first time since Sept. 15 — 106 futile innings ago — that they had scored more than one run in an inning.
“Is that all? It seemed a little longer,” Molitor deadpanned. “Over 100 innings — [it’s] somewhat unfathomable in today’s game to imagine you could go through a period like that offensively and not find a way to put up more than one run in a given inning.”
Unfathomable? A little historic, too. Not since the 1942 Philadelphia Phillies went 109 innings without a multiple-run inning had any major league team suffered through such a lengthy offensive drought.
The home run also made Vargas the first Twin since Sept. 15 to collect two RBI in a game, and stopped a streak of 11 consecutive solo homers by the Twins.
But that brief offensive interlude was all the Twins could manage against Jason Vargas and five relievers.
“It got us back to even,” Molitor said of Vargas’ home run, which matched Hosmer’s third-inning shot, “but again, we just kind of stagnated from there.”
Wade Davis pitched the ninth for his 27th save and extended his streak to 22⅓ consecutive innings against the Twins without allowing a run, but the Royals’ chance to defend their world championship slipped away anyway when Baltimore rallied to beat Toronto and eliminate KC.
“It’s a game,” Santana said, trying to put his terrific/terrible season in perspective. “We just have to prepare and get better for next year.”