MINNEAPOLIS — Sergio Romo appeared to have gotten himself out of a major jam in the top of the ninth inning on Tuesday at Target Field. The reliever entered Game 1 of the Twins’ first-round playoff series with the score tied 1-1 and had given up singles to Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa to put runners on first and second.
Romo then got Josh Reddick to pop out foul to third and Martin Maldonado to fly to left field. That brought up leadoff hitter George Springer, who worked the count to 1-2, before hitting a ground ball to shortstop Jorge Polanco. Polanco made the play and prepared for the easy flip to Luis Arraez at second base. Only Polanco’s throw was off target, Arraez couldn’t catch the ball and the bases were loaded with two outs.
The next batter was Jose Altuve, the 2017 American League MVP, who was coming off a miserable regular season in which he slashed .219/.286/.344 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 48 games. Altuve also had struck out 39 times in 192 at-bats with 17 walks. He worked the count to 3-2 before Romo’s sinker failed to sink and sailed high on the 5-foot-6 second baseman. The walk brought home Gurriel and Romo excited. Lefthander Caleb Thielbar entered and gave up two-run single to Michael Brantley. That gave the Astros a 4-1 lead and, ultimately, a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-three series.
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So what happened on Polanco’s throw? Manager Rocco Baldelli addressed the miscue.
“I didn’t see anything overly unusual from where I was watching,” he said. “I saw Polo take — really, it seemed as if he almost took his time to try to make just a good throw to second base. It looked wide, but I don’t have the greatest angle to tell you exactly what happened either. I’m sure they would have a better take on that. Of course, it’s a play that we have to make. It’s a big moment in the game. We weren’t able to make it. But we have to kind of wipe what we saw today in some regards. We have to show up tomorrow ready to play. Get a little music in the clubhouse and try to just forget what happened, get some rest, and come back and play another ballgame tomorrow.”
Maybe, but if the Twins lose one more game their season will be done. It doesn’t help that Game 1 was extremely winnable for the Twins. Minnesota had the bases loaded with one out in the first inning and failed to score a run. The Twins finished with only four hits. There was plenty of blame to go around for what went wrong in the Twins’ 17th consecutive playoff loss, a streak that established a record for postseason defeats in the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB.
Romo was willing to take his fair share of blame for starting the problems that Polanco failed to finish.
“Well, the thing is the job never changes,” Romo said. “Regardless of the score, regardless of the inning, the situation, it doesn’t matter. My job is to throw strikes and get outs. I do feel personally that I’m the one to wear any of that. I do feel that I put my teammates in a position they shouldn’t have been in. I made some good pitches again. I felt that I missed some good pitches, but again I’ve got to tip my cap to those guys. …
“So, again, kudos to them, but I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to attack the zone more. I’ve been kind of struggling with attacking, falling behind hitters. Then when I get the opportunity to put them away, I haven’t done that. These are moments. This is why I’m here. This is what we’re fighting for. This is what we work for, what we play for, to be in moments like I had the opportunity to be in today, you know what I’m saying? I need to answer that call. At the end of the day, we’re a team. We lost as a team today, but this team’s got a lot of fight. Just watch out for us tomorrow. Watch out.”
Romo appeared less than thrilled that the final pitch to Altuve was called a ball by plate umpire D.J. Reyburn. “I know it’s extremely difficult to umpire, to call balls and strikes,” he said. “I understand, especially with the stuff that pitchers have these days, the velocity, the movement and all that, all the tricky stuff that the catchers do behind the plate to either steal a strike or make sure that they look like even better pitches than what they may be. There’s no blaming nobody, no nothing, you know what I’m saying? Guy gave me a good at-bat in a big situation. He laid off a close pitch. It didn’t go my way. Tough pill to swallow because we’re in the playoffs.”