MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins have spent the majority of this season crushing home runs, an MLB-leading 137 entering Monday, and beating up on opposing pitchers.
But that wasn’t the case on Monday night at Target Field with the Boston Red Sox in town. Instead, the 27,970 in attendance got to see a marvelous pitchers’ duel between the Twins’ Jose Berrios and Boston’s Rick Porcello. It ended with the Red Sox winning 2-0, handing the Twins only their second shutout of the season and ending a stretch of 43 consecutive games in which Minnesota had a run.
Boston entered with a five-game winning streak and got off to a fast start, getting consecutive singles from Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi (who was thrown out trying to stretch his single into a double) and J.D. Martinez, to take a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Berrios then retired the next 19 batters he faced as he went a season-high eight innings. Porcello, meanwhile, gave up a first-inning double to Nelson Cruz before retiring 10 in a row and 15 of 16. He departed after stranding two men on base in the seventh.
So when Jonathan Schoop singled to lead off the eighth inning and Max Kepler followed with a walk against Red Sox reliever Colten Brewer, the Twins thought they might be in business. Jorge Polanco, who entered the game hitting an AL-leading .332, took the first pitch for a ball. He then decided — and decided is the key word here — that he would lay down a bunt.
It worked to perfection — at least if you like the idea of bunting — as Schoop moved to third and Kepler to second with one out. It all went wrong when Cruz squibbed an 0-2 pitch back to Brewer as Schoop broke on contact. Schoop retreated to third as Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon took the toss from Brewer but Leon threw to third baseman Rafael Devers, who completed the rundown by tagging out Schoop.
Things got positively goofy when Kepler turned around as he neared third and retreated to second base. So instead of having runners on first and third with two outs, there were runners on first and second. Eddie Rosario then ended the inning by bouncing to first.
There’s a lot to unpack here, starting with Polanco’s bunt, extending to Schoop breaking for home and ending with Kepler’s baffling decision to go back to second. The final item, Kepler’s baserunning, was just a flat out mistake.
The Polanco bunt caused plenty of consternation among Twins fans, many of whom see no value in bunting. Especially, when the bunt comes from a guy who has established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball this season. “I was trying to bunt for a hit, but I also wanted to move the runner,” Polanco said. “I ended up moving the runners. That was that.”
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has spent his first three months on the job avoiding any and all criticism of his team or his players. But it was clear Baldelli wouldn’t have minded seeing Polanco take his hacks rather than bunting.
“In my opinion, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball,” Baldelli said. “So, I think you can always lean on taking your chances with him swinging the bat. But we all also trust our guys, where I’m not going to stand here and tell you I disapprove of the decision he made out on the field. In the heat of the game, he made a decision and I support him. … We talk about these things all the time with our guys and I’m sure we’ll talk about this one.”
As far as Schoop breaking for home on Cruz’s dribbler in front of the plate, Baldelli said:
“It’s a good move because we were going on contact with that play, so we’re going, and obviously … just the way it plays out, there will be balls put in play and they’re not beneficial, it’s not going to work out. If we go in and just allow him to tag us, Kep will walk into third. It feels like you’re giving yourself up but, really, we take a chance. … We do go on contact a lot, and if you’re going to go on contact, you have generally just go.
“Truthfully once (Schoop) stops, that’s fine; Kep has to just continue on and just go to third and I think we’ll fine. But, again, these are plays that … I don’t want to say they’re one-off plays (but) they happen. They happen and these are the good things we get to talk about over the course of the day. Because every time we go on contact, every time we’re in a few of these situations like we were tonight, they give us good talking points. They give us pretty interesting topics to go over.”
Berrios might have been the losing pitcher but he had a fantastic outing as he lowered his ERA from 3.01 to 2.86.
“After the first inning, the catcher (Jason Castro) and I made some adjustments with the plan we had against the hitters,” said Berrios, who gave up one run, five hits, walked none and struck out 10 in throwing 109 pitches. “We changed a little bit. I think they were looking for my slider, breaking ball — whatever they want to call it. So we changed it. We used more fastballs and attacked them on both sides of the plate.”
Berrios said the fact his performance came against the defending World Champions gave it extra meaning.
“For sure,” he said. “I always thought if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, so tonight I had the chance to try to do that. We don’t make it, but we have more opportunities to try to come through to do it.”
Berrios became the third Twins pitcher to have an eight-inning start, joining Kyle Gibson (on Friday against the Royals) and Martin Perez (on May 1 against Houston). Berrios is now second in the AL behind Justin Verlander (13) with 12 quality starts (tied for third-most in baseball).
Byron Buxton missed his third consecutive game because of a bruised right wrist suffered on Friday when he was hit by a pitch against Kansas City, and Baldelli did not have any immediate update on his center fielder. There was some thought Buxton might take some swings in the cage on Monday but it’s unclear what work he did.
“We don’t have any real updates right now besides the fact that it went well,” Baldelli said after the game. “I think we should have something for everyone (Tuesday).”
It would not be surprising if Buxton is put on the 10-day injured list retroactive to Saturday and the Twins called up an outfielder from Triple-A Rochester. Jake Cave, who is hitting .315 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 32 games for the Red Wings, would appear to be the leading candidate to be brought up.