MINNEAPOLIS — Trevor May had an opportunity to earn his first save of the season on Tuesday night at Target Field, but the veteran reliever wasn’t making life easy on himself or the 23,046 in attendance.
May entered in the ninth — after the Twins had rallied to take a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth by scoring three times — but gave up back-to-back singles to Mallex Smith and Domingo Santana to open the inning. That brought up longtime Twins-killer Edwin Encarnacion, who had hit a three-run homer in the third against starter Martin Perez.
That gave Encarnacion an American League-leading 21 home runs on the season, eight in 10 games this month and 26 in his career against Minnesota. Sixteen of those homers had come in Target Field, trailing only Kansas City’s Salvador Perez (17) among active opponents.
This didn’t look like a favorable matchup for the home team.
May threw Encarnacion four four-seam fastballs in his first five pitches (the other pitch was a slider) to work the count to 3-2. The sixth pitch was another four-seam fastball that came in at 96.1 miles-per-hour but appeared to be low and just outside the strike zone. Encarnacion didn’t swing and Twins catcher Jason Castro did his best to frame the pitch for plate umpire Mike Estabrook.
“I thought it was right there,” May said.
So did Estabrook, who called it strike three on an unhappy Encarnacion. May got the next hitter, Daniel Vogelbach, to pop to second and ended the Twins’ 6-5 victory by getting Kyle Seager to fly to left to finish an eight-pitch at-bat.
“At that point, you feel the momentum swing a little bit,” May said of getting Encarnacion. “To be honest, I felt a similar thing happen in Cleveland with first and second no outs in the sixth inning in that rain delay (last week), and you get a swing and a miss on a fastball and you add a couple ticks because you’re in a tough situation. I don’t know what it is, but the confidence kind of just comes with that, and you just go with it until they show you something else. So I took that same tack, and after I got that out, we were one pitch away at that point. A groundball could’ve been a double play, and that’s the way I approach it.”
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May earned his first save of the season — and the fourth of his career — in part because back stiffness kept lefthander Trevor Rogers out of the game. Manager Rocco Baldelli downplayed the issue but said he doesn’t know if Rogers will be able pitch on Wednesday night against the Mariners.
Righthander Blake Parker leads the Twins with nine saves but he has a 10.38 ERA in four appearances this month and that also likely played a role in Baldelli’s decision to give the ninth inning to May.
“I think he really drove the fastball up in the zone and made some good pitches,” Baldelli said. “He’s got good stuff so I think when he makes those good, quality pitches and executes what he’s trying to do, it’s tough on the hitters. He kind of scattered it a little bit and probably kept the hitters guessing and on their toes. When it came down to making a good pitch, he kind of stayed on the task and he made good pitches and he got them … the stuff is good. I think it played well against the guys he was out there facing and he got the job done. I think he gutted it out and did a nice job.”
Overall, it was an interesting night for the bullpen. Tyler Duffey replaced Perez in the sixth and struck out one while pitching a perfect inning. Ryne Harper struggled through a 32-pitch seventh inning and gave up a run as he surrendered two hits and walked one. Righty Matt Magill, who had given up nine earned runs in his past 1.2 innings, threw only 12 pitches and struck out one in the top of the eight. That enabled Magill to earn the victory and regain some of his confidence.
“Matty did a nice job,” Baldelli said. Talking about another guy with great stuff. We see Matty when he’s around the zone and making pitches and putting the ball where he wants, it’s a difficult at-bat for most hitters. It’s not a fun at-bat, I can promise you that. He went out there and did everything that you could ask him to do. He executed well and I think he’s very pleased and we’re very pleased with what we saw.”