By Phil Miller
CLEVELAND – For all the determined talk, for all the sincere intent, the Twins’ chances of winning the AL Central are fading away in a shockingly hushed manner this weekend.
One day after a calamitous collapse in the late innings, the Twins suffered in silence Saturday, managing only four lonely hits in a 5-1 loss to the Guardians, the first game of a day-night doubleheader. The Twins’ seventh consecutive loss to Cleveland drops them six games back of the AL Central leaders, and guarantees that even a miraculous turnaround in their fortunes over the final three games here would still leave them three games back in a race they must win outright to qualify for the postseason.
And though the stakes were high, the game never felt particularly competitive. Shane Bieber, a former Cy Young Award winner and serial Twins tormenter — Cleveland has won 13 of his 15 career starts against the Twins — suffocated a makeshift lineup. Bieber struck out six, never walked a batter, and until Matt Wallner’s home run in the eighth inning in the Forest Lake native’s major league debut, didn’t allow a batter to reach third base.
“He’s a very good major league pitcher,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Bieber. “The way he spins the ball, it makes it real tough, no matter how many times you’ve seen that breaking ball.”
The Guardians had never seen rookie Louie Varland, who made his second career start, but they peppered him and journeyman Aaron Sanchez all afternoon. Cleveland collected at least one hit in each of the eight innings they batted, scored in four of them, and kept relentless pressure on the Twins’ defense. Three different times, the Twins moved their infielders in, hoping to cut off any runs; the move never had any effect on the game.
Jose Ramirez got the Guardians started right away, slugging a 3-0 fastball from Varland deep into the right-field seats in the first inning. A walk and back-to-back singles in the third produced another run, driven in by Amed Rosario. And Varland’s fourth inning began with three straight hits, the last one a two-RBI single by Owen Miller.
Rosario picked up another RBI in the sixth off Sanchez, who also allowed three straight hits.
The Twins had no answer, but for their newest player, the team-record 59th they h ave used this season. Wallner, the former first-round pick, shocked Bieber by crushing a first-pitch cutter in the eighth inning, driving the ball 414 feet to straightaway center for his first career hit.