MINNEAPOLIS - Jorge Polanco committed just two errors at shortstop during the shortened 60-game regular season.
The Minnesota Twins’ shortstop had a play in the ninth inning Tuesday he’d love to have back. With two out and two Houston Astros on base, George Springer sent a one-hopper to Polanco at short. A simple throw to second ends the inning, sending the Twins to bat in the ninth with the game tied 1-1. Instead, Polanco’s throw pulled Luis Arraez off the base. Sergio Romo then walked Jose Altuve with the bases loaded for the game-winning run.
Michael Brantley added some insurance with a two-run single, and the Twins lost Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Playoffs 4-1 at Target Field. It’s a best-of-three series, so the Twins have to win the next two to keep their season alive.
“Today in such a tight situation, anything you’re not going to execute, it’s going to come back to bite you and that’s what happened. Whatever team really got the job done, didn’t make mistakes, made something happen, was going to come out on top. We didn’t do that today,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said after the loss. “It’s a play we have to make. It’s a big moment in the game, and we weren’t able to make it.”
More depressing for Twins fans: It’s the 17th straight playoff loss for the franchise. That’s the longest active playoff losing streak in professional sports.
The Twins had a chance to avoid it early, and didn’t take advantage. They loaded the bases in the bottom of the first on a Byron Buxton single, and walks from Max Kepler and Nelson Cruz. With one out, Eddie Rosario sent a line shot to first that was caught. Miguel Sano ended the threat on a dribbler to third where he was thrown out on a close play at first.
Sano was adamant he was safe. The Twins challenged, and lost. Until two singles in the ninth, Minnesota managed just two hits off Zach Greinke and Framber Valdez. The Twins finished 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“One hit here, one hit there, we get a lot of runs on the board early and the game is going to go in a different direction. It’s kind of how baseball goes, it’s the cruel reality of the game.” said catcher Ryan Jeffers, who finished the game 0-for-2.
The result spoiled another solid outing for Kenta Maeda, who has been the Twins’ best and most consistent pitcher all year. It’s why he got the Game 1 start, and he went five shutout innings, allowing just two hits while striking out five and walking three. He threw 52 strikes on 91 pitches.
Maeda, who entered the game 6-1 in 11 starts with a 2.70 earned run average, stranded a two-out double in the first and had his only real trouble in the fourth. With the bases loaded, two out and the Twins up 1-0, he struck out Josh Reddick to end the inning and yelled emphatically as he came off the field.
“My stuff today was there generally. It felt good throwing. Command-wise, I think I could’ve thrown a little better,” Maeda said.
“Kenta pitched well. He went out there and he had good stuff. He got us right there in the middle of the game and gave us a chance to win the game. Kenta certainly did his part today,” Baldelli said.
The Twins got on the board first on a Nelson Cruz two-out double off the right field wall. Kepler was sent home, and just beat the throw for a 1-0 lead.
Houston tied it in the seventh off Tyler Duffey on Springer’s single to center that scored Reddick. That set up the ninth, where the Astros loaded the bases after a pair of singles, a pair of fly ball outs and Polanco’s error. With a full count, Romo missed a fast ball high to Altuve for the go-ahead run. Brantley lined a Caleb Thielbar breaking ball to center for two insurance runs.
The Twins gave themselves a chance in the ninth. Sano and Polanco singled, and Willians Astudillo pinch hit representing the tying run. On the first pitch he saw, he grounded into a game-ending 5-3 double play.
All that matters now is finding a way to win on Wednesday. An 18th straight playoff loss would end the Twins’ season, and end any plans of traveling to California for a bubble.
“We’re a play or two away from being in the clubhouse and being very satisfied with what we saw. But we have to play a complete game to earn that and to win a ballgame,” Baldelli said. “You’ve got to win one before you can move on and win a series, and eventually win a World Series. We have some work to do, and it starts tomorrow.”