Starting Pitcher: Bailey Ober, 3.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K (61 pitches, 38 strikes, 62.2%)
Home Runs: Jorge Polanco (5), Carlos Correa (3)
Top 3 WPA: Trevor Megill (.298), Jorge Polanco (.181), Gio Urshela (.163)
Win Probability Chart (via FanGraphs)
Two important players made returns tonight. Since being activated from the injured list on May 21, Bailey Ober made his first start at Target Field, his first home start since April 28. Also, Jorge Polanco was back on the starting lineup after missing the last three games with some soreness in his right ankle. The latter was instrumental for the Twins’ early offensive outburst.
After Ober delivered a scoreless top of the first, Minnesota put together a four-run performance in the home half. After a leadoff single by Luis Arráez, Polanco smashed a one-out, two-run home run to deep right, making it 2-0 Twins. This was Polanco’s first extra-base hit since May 13, his fifth homer of the season. That Arráez’s single drove his batting average to .352, which, according to Bally Sports North, is the second-highest average through May among any Twins infielder since 1983.
The Twins scored two more runs in that same inning, with four consecutive Minnesota batters reaching safely with two outs. Gary Sánchez grounded to center, and Trevor Larnach drew a walk, allowing Gio Urshela to drive in his old Yankee buddy and send Larnach to third. Next, Nick Gordon singled to left to bring Larnach home. The inning could’ve been even better for Minnesota, for Ryan Jeffers drew a walk next, loading the bases for Arráez, but he struck out.
Minnesota’s two-out productivity at the plate continued in the second inning. Although they couldn’t add on any more runs, the Twins loaded the bases with two outs again with a Max Kepler single, another Sánchez single, and a Larnach walk. This is the first time this season in which Sánchez has back-to-back multi-hit games.
The Royals end Ober’s night, tie the game
After pitching two scoreless innings on 30 pitches, including a 1-2-3 second, Ober struggled in the third, and his start was cut short. After striking out Emmanuel Rivera on three pitches to open the inning, he gave up back-to-back singles to Nicky Lopez and Whit Merrifield. He got the second out by striking out Andrew Benintendi but then saw Bobby Witt Jr. triple and Hunter Dozier single to score three runs.
It took Ober 31 pitches to conclude the third, and he was done at only 61 total pitches. Another player returning from injury, Danny Coulombe, who was activated today, took over to pitch the fourth, making his first big-league appearance since May 10. Unfortunately for him, he also struggled, allowing the first three batters he faced to reach and the Royals to tie the game on a Lopez RBI single. Before being removed from the game, he retired only one batter, giving up two hits and two walks. Trevor Megill came in and induced an inning-ending double play on one pitch.
Things could’ve been worse for the Twins in the fourth if it wasn’t for a pretty defensive play by Urshela. With one out and men on the corners, he caught a bullet from Merrifield for a lineout that would’ve scored Rivera from third and given the Royals the lead if it had been a base hit.
Twins get back on top; bullpen, despite not being brilliant, shuts the door
Minnesota didn’t take long to respond. Carlos Correa jumped on the first pitch he saw to hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the fourth, making it 5-4 Twins. The offense got some momentum off the Correa home run and followed it with a couple more hits, both singles. Larnach hit a sac-fly deep enough to score Polanco from third, giving the Twins a two-run lead.
Both bullpens settled down and shut down the opposing offenses for the next couple of innings. Hats off to Megill, who took over for the struggling Coulombe in the fourth and pitched two more scoreless frames before handing the ball over to Joe Smith in the seventh.
On the other hand, Smith didn’t have the best of outings. Failing to throw strikes, he couldn’t even finish an entire inning, which included a leadoff home run to Witt Jr. that brought the Royals within one. After that, he walked a couple of batters, something incredibly rare this season. Before tonight’s game, he had given up two total walks the entire season (17 appearances). Caleb Thielbar came in to get the inning’s final out.
Jhoan Duran didn’t have a brilliant outing either, throwing less than 53% strikes and giving up a single and a walk, but he managed to close out the top of the eighth after a mound visit. To be fair, the home plate umpire took a called third strike away from him that maybe extended the inning more than it should.
A one-run lead would be too dangerous for a group of relievers that has been struggling in high-leverage situations of late, so the offense once again came through and broke the game wide open. Facing reliever Joel Payamps, the bats scored four more runs in the bottom of the eighth, to provide some insurance.
Kepler tripled to deep center in what could just as easily have been an inside-the-park home run, had the Royal defense not been quick enough. Payamps intentionally walked Larnach, and Urshela hit an RBI single next, scoring Kepler. Gordon hit a bases-clearing double to score Larnach and Urshela and scored himself on an Arráez two-out single moments later.
A 10-5 lead should be more than enough for Yennier Cano to close out the game with no worries. However, he gave up a solo home run to M.J. Melendez, then a two-out RBI double to Rivera. Suddenly, the Twins’ lead was down to three and Rocco Baldelli didn’t want to risk it. Emilio Pagán was brought in to get the final out, in a save situation. He struck out Lopez on three pitches.
Bullpen Usage Spreadsheet