MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Minnesota Twins season is over after a 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros Wednesday night in Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Target Field. The Twins lost the series 3-1.
The Twins now have 10 straight losses in elimination games, and have not gotten to the American League Championship Series since 2002. The Astros are headed to their seventh straight ALCS.
With more than 40,000 fans on their feet most of the night, the Twins’ offense produced only three hits and two solo home runs. Royce Lewis hit a solo shot to left in the bottom of the first, and an Edouard Julien added solo homer in the bottom of the sixth to get the Twins within 3-2.
For Lewis, it was his fourth career postseason home run. That ties him in Twins’ franchise history with Greg Gagne, and he’s just one behind Kirby Puckett. It was the Twins’ bottom half of the lineup that failed them. The Twins’ five through nine hitters (Max Kepler, Carlos Correa, Ryan Jeffers, Willi Castro, Donovan Solano, Michael A. Taylor and a pinch-hitting Byron Buxton) went a combined 0-for-19 with 11 strikeouts.
"It’s not fun, I’m going to miss all these guys so much. I wasn’t ready for this at all, I was expecting to go a few more weeks at least and party into the offseason. We’ll get them next year," Lewis said. "It’s frustrating, but it’s part of the game. I know the effort was there, that’s all you can ask for."
Correa addressed the team after Wednesday's loss. His main message was to remember how painful this loss felt.
"We felt like we had a lot of chances, and it didn’t go our way. So we’ve got to get better this offseason and show up to Spring Training ready because we’re going to compete against those guys again," Correa said. "If you want to get to a World Series, you’ve got to beat that team. We’re going to prepare for that next year."
A pitching-by-committee approach mostly worked for Rocco Baldelli, with the exception of one move.
Michael Brantley got the Astros tied in the second with a solo homer to right field. But it was Jose Abreu’s two-run homer to right center off Caleb Thielbar in the fourth that was the difference. The 424-foot blast was his third homer in two days, and put the Astros in front for good.
Baldelli’s pitching approach changed in an elimination game, pulling Joe Ryan after two innings, allowing one run on just 26 pitches. Brock Stewart pitched a clean third, and Thielbar got the fourth. It was the only move that didn't work. Abreu sent a 1-0, knee-high fastball to the bleachers. He had two hits, and hit two homers in Game 3.
"It’s a great lineup, there’s no weak spot and Abreu is the guy that got it done for them today. I feel terrible about it," Thielbar said. "I know it’s not all on me, that’s what everyone keeps telling me. But that’s how it feels right now and it’s going to take a little while to get over it."
Chris Paddack, Griffin Jax and Jhoan Duran followed with scoreless efforts in relief. Baldelli was asked after the loss about taking Ryan out after two innings.
"We had a full bullpen of good bullpen arms. Truthfully in an elimination game, there’s no need to ride your starter. We wanted to get the best stuff out of Joe possible, which generally was going to be about one time through," Baldelli said. "At some point you just have to make a call when that time is going to be… We didn’t score enough runs today."
"Outside of one swing, they threw the ball amazing. This game sucks sometimes," catcher Ryan Jeffers said. "We’ve gotten over a lot of humps this year, this season, that we needed to get over. Now we have a new hunger for October baseball. We know what it’s like to be here now."
It was the Twins’ offense that let them down for the second straight night. They scored just one run in Game 3 on only three hits, and never had any real traffic on the bases to stress Astros’ pitchers in Game 4. Jose Urquidy, who entered the night with an earned run average north of 5, allowed two runs on three hits over 5 2/3 innings. The Twins shattered the major league record for strikeouts in the regular season with 1,654, and they struck out 14 times Wednesday. They had 73 strikeouts in six playoff games.
Seven of the last eight Twins' outs came via strikeout, including former Twin Ryan Pressly striking out Jorge Polanco, Lewis and Kepler in the ninth.
Minnesota’s season is over after winning its third AL Central title in five seasons, and sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card Playoffs. The Astros move on and will face the Texas Rangers for the American League pennant.
"I thought our players got better through the year. The team is hungry in a way that I don’t think we probably even were before. You get a taste of something like this, you show this to people what this looks like and what it is, we’re not that far from playing in the World Series," Baldelli said. "We’re playing against the best teams in baseball right now. We didn’t get it done in this series, we got beat."