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Twins collapse in extra innings in walk-off loss to Guardians

Twin Cities Pioneer Press logo Twin Cities Pioneer Press 6/30/2022 Betsy Helfand, Pioneer Press

CLEVELAND — Wednesday’s walk-off loss will officially be credited to Jharel Cotton, whose last pitch to Josh Naylor ended up on the left-field concourse and was followed by a dramatic bat flip and frenzied celebration.

But there’s plenty of blame to go around for the 10th-inning collapse the Twins suffered on Wednesday in Cleveland to the team closest to them in the standings, one which saw them surrender four runs to lose 7-6 to the Guardians at Progressive Field.

Some belongs to Cotton, who gave up the home run. Some belongs to Emilio Pagán, who gave up three runs — two earned — in the 10th. Some belongs to the coaching staff that put Pagán in that situation after watching him struggle against the same team and cough up leads three times in the past week and a half.

One of those times was literally a day earlier.

“Right now, his stuff is actually good,” manager Rocco Baldelli said of Pagán. “The execution is not good. The stuff is good. So there’s something there, obviously, to work with going forward. But we need to also look at ourselves in the mirror and be accountable and know that right now, he’s not getting the job done the way we know he can.”

So why, exactly, was he placed in that situation?

Pagán entered in the 10th, staked to a three-run lead after pinch-hitter Carlos Correa brought home Byron Buxton and Max Kepler gave the Twins a three-run cushion with a two-run blast in the top of the inning.

By that point, the Twins had already exhausted their best bullpen options. Caleb Thielbar threw a scoreless sixth inning and Griffin Jax and Jhoan Duran, who have emerged as the team’s two most reliable relievers, covered the next three.

With none available, the Twins turned to Pagán.

“We’ve got a three-run game out there and give him an opportunity to get back out there and win a ballgame for us, and that’s really it,” Baldelli said. “Obviously, he’s struggling at this point. You can’t deny that. But we all have to look at the situation and figure out what we do next and how to get him right and where he needs to be.”

Pagán has had particular difficulties with the Guardians this season. A day earlier, he gave up an eighth-inning, two-run single to Amed Rosario that lifted Cleveland to a 3-2 lead and eventual win.

Two times last week, the Twins saw Pagán falter against Cleveland. The Guardians, he said multiple times Thursday, have had his number. He described himself as angry and disappointed for letting the team down.

“I feel like I’m throwing the ball good enough to get outs and it’s just not going my way right now,” he said. “I’m just getting beat so I’m pretty mad.”

Baldelli came out to take the ball from Pagán with one out in the inning after he had walked Steven Kwan and given up a run-scoring double to Rosario. Cotton was summoned with a pair of runners in scoring position to face José Ramírez, one of the most feared hitters in the game.

After retiring Ramírez, a Ryan Jeffers passed ball allowed Kwan to score. Minutes later, Naylor sent the Cleveland crowd home happy.

“My mindset was just to come in there and I’d do it for the boys, do it for the team. I was happy to be in that spot,” Cotton said. “I was happy that Rocco called on me to be in that spot. Just one pitch. One pitch messed up the entire game.”

So the Twins, who were one pitch away from walking away with a victory, now have to regroup — yet again — from a bad loss to the Guardians.

After seeing three of them, this one was perhaps the worst of all.

“That game’s as tough as it comes,” Baldelli said. “I don’t think you’re going to see a game that comes more difficult on a team than that.”

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