CHICAGO – Zack Littell could have gotten out of the fifth inning Saturday with only one run scored off him and a two-run deficit, a bridgeable gap considering the robust Twins lineup backing him.
The righthander had White Sox slugger Jose Abreu in an 0-2 count with two outs and threw the pitch he wanted at the spot he wanted.
"And credit to him," Littell said, "he fought it off and dumped it into right field."
Inning not over. And everything else, well, is on Littell.
"Not one of those things you can really be upset with," he said. "That stuff's going to happen. It's the at-bat after that and kind of letting it spiral a little bit, so."
Two home runs later, the Twins were down by five to Chicago and on their way to a 10-3 loss at Guaranteed Rate Field. Twins relievers could not keep the game close enough to make things interesting, one day after four relievers combined for five shutout innings in a victory that began the team's 60-game 2020 season.
"Today we didn't make the pitches that we needed to make," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Obviously there were some home runs, there was some action with two out where we probably could have gotten through an inning and we weren't able to get through."
The White Sox belted five home runs, matching their high for a single game last season, while showing their opponents that there might be other teams around that can bash their way to the top. The assault included two home runs from Leury Garcia — one from each side of the plate — and a two-run shot to left by Edwin Encarnacion off Littell in the fifth that was hit with such conviction that Eddie Rosario never moved to the track the ball on its way to the seats.
Veteran lefthander Dallas Keuchel, making his White Sox debut, opened with three perfect innings and had a one-hit shutout through five before leaving the game with two on in the sixth. Both runners scored on the Twins' lone highlight of the game, a three-run homer by Nelson Cruz that cut Chicago's lead to 5-3.
The Twins were down to Option C for a starter in Randy Dobnak. The rookie righthander was called upon after Jake Odorizzi landed on the injured list and Rich Hill was pushed back a few days to his original day to start. Dobnak wasn't too shabby, holding the White Sox to one run over four innings on three hits and two walks while getting three strikeouts.
"Dobber did a really nice job," Baldelli said. "He battled out there. He made pitches too. The slider looked good. We'll take that start from him."
There are relievers managers typically use when teams are ahead and relievers typically used when teams are trailing. The second group's job is to hold the score in place and hope their teammates start swinging the sticks.
Littell — who gave up four home runs over 37 innings in going 6-0 with a 2.68 ERA last season — was handed a 1-0 deficit turned it into 5-0. Devin Smeltzer took the mound after Cruz's home run and gave up five more runs, including a three-run homer to Garcia in the seventh, as the White Sox scored double-digit runs vs. the Twins for the first time since Sept. 4, 2016.
The Twins are left to wonder how differently things could have been if Littell had gotten out of the fifth inning with minimal damage.
"You have to be able to get through those situations if you expect to win," Baldelli said. "We could be on the other side again at some point, where one of our guys comes up big and does something to propel us. When you do come out on the other side of those, it is tough to stay in the game and ultimately win."