The go-ahead run was at third base Sunday, Twins infielders were drawn in, and White Sox slugger Jose Abreu waited ominously at the plate. Ryan Pressly challenged him with one fastball after another, 97 mph, then 98, then 98 again. Finally, he tried an 86-mph slider, and Abreu swung helplessly. Strike three.
Whew. What a relief. Take a deep breath.
Just one thing. “We always talk about not letting your guard down, making that second out count,” manager Paul Molitor said. “That strikeout doesn’t do any good if you don’t finish the inning.”
And therein lies the problem: Pressly may have won the main event, but he lost the undercard. Almost before Twins fans could relax after Abreu stalked away, Avisail Garcia smacked one of those fireballs into the third row of the right-field seats, a crushing blow that delivered the White Sox a 3-1 victory and deflated what could have been an exceptional weekend for the Twins.
“Doggone it. When you look back at it in July and August, these are some of the games I feel like we have to win,” said Brian Dozier, who provided the entirety of the Twins’ offense with — get this — an inside-the-park home run, the first of his career. “We have to push more runs across when we have the opportunity. We’re fine, but we could easily have flip-flopped and won the series.”
No doubt about that, considering the Twins outscored Chicago 8-5 over the three days in Target Field, yet lost two of the three and fell out of first place. Coincidentally, both losses were absorbed by Pressly, who allowed a tiebreaking home run to Matt Davidson on Friday. That struck his teammates as a little strange, because Pressly is the Twins’ hardest thrower.
“You could see he’s throwing 97, 98 on the corner, on the black,” said Hector Santiago, who used his still-formidable 93-mph fastball to shut out Chicago over seven innings. “He’ll make adjustments, he’ll be fine. His stuff is electric. It’s just that Avisail is swinging the bat well, better than I’ve ever seen.”
That’s certainly true. Garcia went 6-for-12 in the series and is now leading the AL with a .465 average — a fact that had Molitor ruminating, before even being asked, about whether he should have walked the White Sox right fielder once Abreu struck out.
“I thought he might be due to make an out,” Molitor deadpanned. “We all know how hot he is, but I’m not huge on walking guys to get to other people when I think my guy’s got the stuff to get him out. But obviously [Pressly] left the ball up where he could handle it. Tough one to swallow.”
It was, but the responsibility doesn’t lie only with the bullpen. The Twins collected seven hits and four walks on Sunday, but only three of those eight baserunners ever advanced beyond first base, and none after Dozier’s inside-the-park adventure in the fifth inning. The Twins loaded the bases in the fourth inning, their biggest threat by far, but Byron Buxton left them stranded by striking out.
The White Sox had plenty more threats, putting the leadoff runner on base four times, and the first two batters on in two different innings. But Santiago reacts to difficult situations like a Marine jumping out of an airplane — you see danger, he sees a challenge. Santiago held the Sox to 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, extended Chicago’s scoreless streak to 18 innings (a stretch they ended against Matt Belisle in the eighth) and reduced his ERA to an amazing 1.47.
With that kind of pitching, it’s a little hard to believe the day ended so badly. “All year, we’ve been one pitch away, one hit away, from winning every game,” Santiago said. “We’ve got nothing to put our head down about. We’re grinding. We’re playing really well.”