Twins’ bases-loaded futility ends in 8-2 rout of Astros

Tribune Content Agency

HOUSTON — Maybe word got out.

Hunter Brown probably knew about it, so when Max Kepler and Willi Castro led off the third innings with singles, it must have made sense to walk Michael A. Taylor. And Parker Mushinski surely was aware of the numbers, so when he relieved Brown in the fifth with Alex Kirilloff and Kyle Farmer on base in the fifth inning, he simplified things and hit Joey Gallo with a pitch.

Ha ha, joke’s on them. The Twins, baseball’s worst team with bases loaded, erased two months of mostly failure with the big hits they’ve been searching for all year. Donovan Solano recorded the team’s first bases-loaded hit since May 13 with a two-run single to drive in Kepler and Castro, and Ryan Jeffers collected the Twins first extra-base hit — of the season — with three runners on base, driving in Kirilloff and Farmer with a ground-rule double that bounced over the right-field wall.

Breaking their 0-for-14 streak in those situations unleashed the Twins’ biggest Minute Maid Park outburst in four years, and the Twins walked off with an 8-2 victory to win a series in southern Texas for only the second time since 2014.

The Astros, meanwhile, went 0-for-0 with the bases loaded, because Louie Varland never any of them so much as touch third base. The rookie righthander pitched a career-high seven innings against the reigning World Series champions, all of them scoreless. He allowed just four hits, all of them singles, and struck out five.

A Twins’ lineup without Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa and Jorge Polanco closed the month of May with one of the more heartening performances of the year. Brown struck out five of the first six hitters he faced, but Solano breaking the bases-loaded jinx seemed to loosen up the entire batting order. Kirilloff followed Solano’s hit with an RBI single, one of five hits (and 11 times on base) he contributed in the three-game visit to Houston.

And one inning after Jeffers’ two-run double, the Twins added two more, with Solano doubling home Castro and Michael A. Taylor for his first four-RBI — heck, his first multiple-RBI — game as a Twin.

Even Gallo’s 0-for-4, three-strikeout night was punctuated with a funny moment. He hit a fly ball that initially appeared headed for deep right field — until it clanged off a rooftop beam some 200 feet in the air and 300 feet down the line, and bounced into foul territory.

Perhaps the only worrisome detail about the Twins’ big finish to a mediocre 12-15 month was another mystifying performance by Jorge López. The former All-Star reliever, who didn’t allow an earned run over 12 innings in April, threw a 97-mph down-the-middle sinker with his first pitch on Wednesday, and Jake Myers clobbered it 403 feet into the Astros’ bullpen. Two pitches later, a 90-mph slider sat in nearly the same spot, and pinch-hitter Yainer Diaz blasted it into the Crawford boxes.

López then walked Mauricio Dubon, though not before whistling a pitch under his chin, and hit Jeremy Peña on the hand. Brock Stewart took over and struck out all three hitters he faced to prevent more damage, but Lopez, who had a 0.00 ERA in April, posted a 9.00 mark in May, allowing 11 earned runs and five homers in 11 innings.