Homers, speed spark Twins late as they salvage doubleheader, win series over White Sox

Homers, speed spark Twins late as they salvage doubleheader, win series over White Sox

CHICAGO β€” Baseball’s hottest offense found itself in an unusual place late Wednesday afternoon, lifeless and in need of a spark.

β€œI’ve never seen a dugout with high-end energy when you’ve only got about one run over 14 innings,” Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

What instantly had the look of a promising day at the plate instead developed into a total dud. Not only were the Twins stymied by Erick Fedde and the Chicago White Sox in the opener of their doubleheader, but they trailed by two runs after five innings in the nightcap.

Then an offense that can beat teams in many ways suddenly returned to its level.

Brooks Lee and Carlos Correa blasted solo home runs to tie the contest and an inning later Byron Buxton’s speed and Ryan Jeffers’ blooper allowed the Twins to forge ahead. The late offense and a dazzling performance by the bullpen lifted the Twins to a 3-2 victory, which allowed them to salvage a doubleheader split and win the series.

Lee’s Game 2 round-tripper and a solo homer by Matt Wallner in a 3-1 loss in the opener helped the Twins extend their streak of consecutive games with a home run to 28, tied with the 2023 Atlanta Braves for second-longest in baseball history.

β€œWe can hit the home runs, but we can also blooper, single, blooper, double, blooper, get ’em in,” Jeffers said. β€œWe can put the bat on the ball and get guys across and that’s what matters. I feel like we can beat you in so many different ways and everybody in the lineup can put a ball over the fence. But everybody in the lineup is also going to give you really good ABs and they’re not ever going to make it easy for you as a pitcher.”

The Twins offense has spent 2 1/2 months making it difficult for opposing pitchers.

Entering Wednesday’s doubleheader, the team was hitting .273/.338/.462 and scoring 5.5 runs per game over their past 71 contests.

β€œOne through nine is scary around here,” Buxton said.

Then the Twins got off to a promising start against Fedde, a free-agent pickup in the midst of a very good season for Chicago. Fedde walked Willi Castro and Correa ended an 11-pitch at-bat with a single to right ahead of another free pass to Trevor Larnach.

Only 24 pitches in, Fedde was on the ropes, reliever Chad Kuhl was warming up and the Twins were in prime position.

β€œYou can’t get too far ahead of yourself,” Baldelli said. β€œJust ’cause the game started in our favor in a big way, you can’t relax in any way.”

Fedde didn’t let down. He fought back and sent the Twins into a tailspin. He wiggled out of the jam without surrendering a run and held the Twins scoreless for five innings.

The Twins wouldn’t score until Wallner homered in the seventh inning off reliever Jordan Leasure to cut the deficit to 3-1. But then they continued to struggle, including being on the downside of an immaculate inning by White Sox closer Michael Kopech, who recorded three strikeouts on nine pitches.

Chicago’s Game 2 starter, Drew Thorpe, the No. 37 prospect in baseball, kept the Twins in check well into the nightcap. Acquired from San Diego for Dylan Cease, Thorpe faced only two over the minimum through five innings as he limited the Twins to a Wallner single and walk.

But Thorpe’s showdown with his former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo teammate Lee brought the Twins back to life. Trailing 2-0, Lee crushed an 0-1 cut-fastball on the inner half for a homer to right field. Five pitches later, Correa dialed long distance off Thorpe to tie the score at 2-2.

β€œIt was just a buzzkill when it happens in the first inning like that,” said Correa, who went 4-for-7 with a walk in the doubleheader. β€œIt kills a lot of momentum, but we know how good we are and we’ve got to stay composed and be able to score more runs after that. Obviously Fedde’s a good pitcher and he’s been having a great year. But yeah, we didn’t get the job done the first game. But we were able to come through at some point. The dugout was a little dead. That was the spark we needed.”

Buxton ignited the next match.

Felled by scorching-line drives that found White Sox gloves, Buxton made most of his leadoff seventh-inning blooper. Facing Michael Soroka, Buxton plopped a 61.8 mph duck snort about 60 feet beyond first base. Where most players would settle for a single, Buxton immediately had his eyes set on second base, sliding in well ahead of the throw.

Two batters later, Jeffers’ blooper over the third baseman easily scored Buxton to give the Twins a 3-2 lead.

Buxton, who an inning later lined out on a 106.6 mph laser with runners on the corners, laughed after the game upon learning the exit velocity of his double.

β€œI guess that’s how it works,” Buxton said with a smile. β€œIt’s always good to find different ways to win, even without a homer. We preach pushing the line down and getting it to the next guy and we battle throughout the game. When it happened, it happened. Put a couple good swings on the ball, they went out, got the game tied. Just tried to get the energy back to our side. It changed that momentum and (we) took advantage of it. …How we are now with the way we’re playing, it makes it even harder for teams to try to figure us out. It ain’t just one person beating you.”

The Twins needed a host of relievers to close the nightcap out.

The relief core picked up where Cole Sands left off in the opener, delivering four more scoreless innings. Steven Okert, Jorge Alcala, Griffin Jax and Jhoan Duran faced one batter over the minimum in the nightcap as Twins relievers combined for six shutout innings in the doubleheader.

Their effort came on the heels of a solid outing by Pablo LΓ³pez, who had plenty of swing-and-miss stuff but had his pitch count quickly driven up by White Sox hitters. Lopez generated 18 swings and misses in 90 pitches, striking out five. He exited after five innings, having yielded two runs, including a solo homer to light-hitting catcher MartΓ­n Maldonado.

Afterward, Lopez was reminded he introduced the team’s Prince-themed home run celebration on June 13, just four days into the 28-game homer streak. The Twins now sit three games behind the 2019 New York Yankees, who homered in 31 straight games.

β€œIt’s really cool to see,” Lopez said. β€œYou see these guys working so hard. They’re not just working hard, but they’re working smart. They know how other teams are approaching them, how they’re pitching to them. And they go out, and they make the adjustments they want to make. …The guys are just on fire right now. It’s an offense that you don’t want to mess around with.”

Brother to brother

Lee and Thorpe were not only teammates, but they lived in the same house for two seasons at college.

Now they have squared off in the big leagues.

Thorpe retired Lee in their first two meetings on a ground out and a strikeout on Wednesday. But Lee got the best of Thorpe in their third and final round.

β€œI know him so well and he knows me so well, it’s emotional for all of us,” Lee said. β€œYou just want to sit back and cry because we’re so proud of each other. We push each other so hard. We knew we’d always have the same common goals. Now it’s coming to fruition, but we still have bigger dreams than what’s going on right now. … Drew is a brother to me, and he’s a son to my dad.”

A second-round pick of the New York Yankees in the 2022 draft (61st overall), Thorpe is already with his third organization. He was traded first by the Yankees to San Diego in the Juan Soto deal and then by the Padres to the White Sox in exchange for Dylan Cease.

β€œWe’re best friends, so it’s super cool,” Thorpe said. β€œWe are proud of each other. It was good. I got him and he got me, so it was all right. …It’s unbelievable. It’s kind of what we talked about through three years of college, being up here together. Playing against him, it’s super special.”

Potpurri

Duran’s third-to-last pitch registered at 102.3 mph, tied for his fourth-hardest pitch of the season. It also marked the first time he’s eclipsed 102.0 mph since June 14. Duran threw six fastballs at an average 101.5 mph velocity on Wednesday, which was 1.3 mph over his season average (100.3 mph). …After starting in the opener, Willi Castro pinch hit in the seventh inning of the nightcap and played second base, giving him an appearance in all 93 of the team’s games. … Baldelli initially planned to give Lee the day off Tuesday to rest his body after a strenuous schedule. But after the game was rained out, thus giving Lee a day off his feet, the rookie started both Wednesday games, getting a start as the team’s designated hitter in the opener before later playing third base. Lee’s six-game hitting streak ended in the opener as he finished 0-for-4. … Bailey Ober was hitless through four innings in the opener, but finished a tough-luck loser. Ober allowed three earned runs and four hits while walking one and striking out six in six innings. Ober said his only mistake resulted in a two-run homer by Chicago’s Luis Robert. β€œIt was supposed to be up and in and I threw it down,” Ober said. β€œAnd that’s kind of right into his bat path. …It is what it is, there are games like this all the time. If I pitch up and in and then I get him with something else, we get out of that. It would be a 1-0 game going into the top of the seventh, I guess. Sometimes it happens.” …Reliever Cole Sands struck out three in two scoreless innings in the opener. Sands has a 1.80 ERA and 23 strikeouts in his last 20 innings pitched. … Rookie David Festa served as the team’s 27th man during both games of the doubleheader.

(Photo of Brooks Lee celebrating his Game 2 homer: Matt Marton/USA Today)