Twins hang on for 1-0 victory in series finale over Guardians
Nick Gordon’s home run was the only scoring as Twins pulled back into virtual tie atop AL Central
In the end, Joe Smith, Jhoan Duran and Caleb Thielbar accomplished what they set out to do: protect the Twins’ slim one-run advantage for the final three innings of the game.
But the way the bullpen did it Thursday might have caused a few heart palpitations among the Target Field faithful.
Smith’s high-wire act, Duran’s four outs and Thielbar’s first career save followed a scoreless, six-inning outing from starter Devin Smeltzer. Combined with a solo home run from Nick Gordon it was just enough for a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Guardians as the Twins avoided a series sweep and pulled back into a virtual tie atop the American League Central standings.
“After losing two games where we were in position to win, we fought real well,” manager Rocco Baldelli said, referencing the two losses that slipped away after the Twins turned to the bullpen. “ … Those are draining games, especially when you do not come out on top. (But) our guys showed up.”
On a day where the Twins (39-32) got little going offensively — they finished with just five hits, three from Carlos Correa and none of the five in the same inning — Gordon’s solo home run in the third inning proved to be just enough. Playing in place of Byron Buxton — out as his troublesome right knee has flared up — Gordon crushed a curveball to straightaway center field off Zach Plesac to give the Twins the only run they would need.
“Him going to the biggest part of the field and hitting one there, it’s a big moment at a time where we want to jump ahead in this ballgame,” Baldelli said.
That was enough for Smeltzer, who induced his fair share of weak contact over six innings. The left-hander allowed just three hits and didn’t walk a batter before turning the game over to the bullpen. It was an important performance on a day when the Twins were light on available relievers and the offense was quiet.
“When (the opponent is) a hot lineup, you’ve just got to come in, trust the work you put in that week, and (catcher) Gary (Sánchez) and I put our work in,” Smeltzer said. “And it just comes down to trust and execution.”
When Smeltzer departed, things got interesting.
Smith, who entered in the seventh, walked the first batter he faced, allowed a double and then hit the next batter to load the bases without an out. But he responded by getting Ernie Clement to bounce to Jose Miranda at first, who rifled a throw to Sánchez at the plate for a force out. The next batter, Luke Maile, grounded to Gio Urshela, who bobbled the ball before recovering and throwing to Sánchez to get the second out on a force. Myles Straw then lined to right for the final out of the inning.
“Joe makes good pitches and makes things happen when the times are important,” Baldelli said. “He’s had a lot of spots like that this year where he’s just found a way to come through.”
The Twins then turned to their most reliable arm, Duran, who worked a scoreless eighth inning despite hitting a batter who subsequently advanced to second on a wild pitch. The rookie came out to begin the ninth, too, striking out slugger Franmil Reyes before Baldelli came out to get him, a decision that elicited boos from the Target Field crowd.
Baldelli said it was a question of whether they were going to let Duran face the first batter of the ninth — they are carefully monitoring the right-hander’s workload, and he pitched two innings in the first game of the series — and while his dominance makes them want to keep using him, they were not going to let him pitch two full innings on Thursday.
The decision to remove Duran might not have been popular, but it worked.
Brought in to face a lefty, Thielbar gave up a double before getting the final two batters for the first career. While Thielbar said the experience was “not really any different than any game,” he did plan on keeping the game ball as a memento.
“It’s just good to get out there and win that one today, especially after how the last two nights have gone,” he said.
This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.