MINNEAPOLIS — A win seemed all but inevitable when the Minnesota Twins scored five runs before recording an out in the first inning Tuesday against Cleveland.
But as the Twins found out the hard way, nothing is guaranteed in baseball. Despite the early offensive barrage, Minnesota’s bats went quiet the rest of the night at Target Field while the pitching faltered. The end result was a 7-5 victory for the Indians, who didn’t back down after falling into the first-inning hole.
"You score like that, that’s when you’ve got to bury somebody," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We didn’t bury them."
Facing Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer, Minnesota’s lineup had no problem scoring right out of the gate. Danny Santana led off the bottom of the first inning with a double, and Brian Dozier drew a walk against Bauer to start an early threat. First baseman Joe Mauer drove in the first of five runs with a ground-rule double that hopped the fence in left-center field for a 1-0 Twins lead.
From there, Kennys Vargas plated Dozier with a single to right, and Oswaldo Arcia blasted his third home run in as many games, a three-run, 416-foot shot to right field. Before Bauer was able to get the first out of the inning, the Twins already led 5-0.
But Bauer went on cruise control from that point. He retired the next three batters he faced to finally get out of the first inning. The 23-year-old righty then breezed through the second through fourth innings, setting down 14 Twins batters in a row before issuing a two-out walk to Dozier in the bottom of the fifth. That walk ended Bauer’s night, but a combination of seven Indians relievers helped shut Minnesota’s offense down the rest of the way.
In most cases, that early five-run cushion would have been enough for Twins starter Kyle Gibson to leave the game with a comfortable lead. However, Gibson — who has been inconsistent throughout the 2014 season — left in the sixth with Twins up just 5-4 and a runner on base. He allowed a solo homer to Yan Gomes in the second, and Zach Walters’ two-run single in the fourth cut the Twins’ lead to 5-3.
A wild pitch in the fifth scored leadoff man Michael Bourn to make it a 5-4 game. That, Gibson believed, was the turning point in the night. Three more Cleveland runs came in to score in the top of the sixth after Gibson exited, one of which was charged to the Twins starter. The other two runs belonged to reliever Brian Duensing, who couldn’t get pinch hitter Tyler Holt with two outs in the sixth. His double gave the Indians their first lead of the night as they climbed all the way back from the five-run deficit.
Just like that, a once-encouraging 5-0 lead was gone.
"A run here or there normally isn’t going to kill you with a 5-0 lead," said Gibson, who fell to 11-10 with the loss. "I unfortunately just let them do it three or four times and chip back into the game. That game never should have been 5-4, 5-5 to start with in the sixth inning."
Minnesota didn’t have many chances to score after the first-inning outburst, but the Twins couldn’t capitalize on the few opportunities they did have. Dozier was left at third base in the bottom of the fifth when Kennys Vargas grounded out to short to end Minnesota’s threat.
Eduardo Escobar and pinch hitter Eduardo Nunez hit back-to-back singles to lead off the seventh, but Minnesota’s top three hitters in the lineup didn’t get the ball out of the infield after that, stranding two runners on the bases. The first of those three outs came after Santana tried to bunt to start the at-bat and wound up striking out.
"We’re going to bunt them over and try to get runs in. We’ve got to get back in the ballgame," Gardenhire said when asked about the decision to bunt. "It’s what you have to do. Danny has to be able to do those things. You want to play in this league, you’re a leadoff hitter, he can hit a home run, yes, and he’s hitting .320, yes, but he’s got to be able to bunt."
As Gibson alluded to, though, Minnesota should never have found itself in that position after jumping out to such an early lead. Instead, the Twins dropped the series opener and fell to 55-69 on the season.
By the conclusion of Tuesday’s game, that 5-0 lead felt as if it happened forever ago.
"You’ve got to pitch and you’ve got to stop them, and we didn’t do a very good job of that," Gardenhire said. "They just kept scoring one here, two there, and the next thing you know they’re in it. . . . It was frustrating watching it."