Max Kepler singles in 9th, as Twins edge Red Sox

David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Max Kepler delivered the sigh-of-relief winner for Minnesota on the last day of a rough first homestand of the season.

The Boston Red Sox relentlessly kept the Twins from being comfortable all series.

Kepler’s bloop RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning gave Minnesota a 4-3 victory Thursday over Boston – stopping a five-game losing streak for the Twins and breaking a nine-game winning string for the Red Sox.

“It’s impossible to go out and play baseball and not feel it when it’s going really well or when it’s not going really well. It’s really how you harness that,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.

Luis Arraez, ever the team sparkplug, let those emotions loose as he raced home on Kepler’s hit off Adam Ottavino (1-1) and belly-flopped into home plate.

“It’s a tough week, but we won the game,” said Arraez, who went 4 for 5 with a two-run single. “I think it’s a good start for us.”

The Twins avoided matching their longest losing streak in three years under Baldelli, a six-game slide from July 31-Aug. 5, 2020.

The Red Sox, who tied it in the eighth on Alex Verdugo‘s three-run double, were on their longest winning streak since a 10-game run in 2018, the season they won the World Series.

“We ended up losing a game with a jam shot to center field. That’s not bad,” said manager Alex Cora, who was ejected for arguing in the eighth. “We just beat the American League Central champions, three out of four. We’ve been playing good baseball.”

Alex Colome (1-1) pitched a scoreless ninth for the victory, despite a one-out double by Christian Arroyo. Verdugo capped a 10-pitch at-bat against Taylor Rogers with his two-out double in the eighth that made it 3-all. The Red Sox had loaded the bases against Hansel Robles.

Five times during their winning streak, the Red Sox rallied from a deficit in the fifth inning or later.

“It’s been fun. I told you guys earlier in the year that this is a sneaky good team,” said Garrett Richards, who stretched Boston’s streak of 10 straight games with the starting pitcher completing at least five innings. The two runs he allowed were unearned.

Michael Pineda allowed only two singles over seven scoreless innings for the Twins, who had a home run by slump-ridden slugger Miguel Sano in the sixth.

Pineda’s career-best winning streak remained at eight straight decisions, a 15-start stretch with a 2.70 ERA dating to July 26, 2019. The big right-hander served a 60-game suspension for taking a banned weight loss drug, bridging the last two seasons.

Using his trusty slider to help tame the top-scoring team in the American League, Pineda retired 14 straight batters at one point. He walked one and struck out six, throwing 88 pitches.

“That was just a fabulous outing,” Baldelli said.

PLAY IT AGAIN

The Twins won two challenges in the second. Christian Vazquez had a hit by pitch become a groundout in the top of the inning, when replays showed Pineda’s fastball plunked the knob of his bat. In the bottom of the frame, Sano was initially called out on a slide into second after a fielder’s choice grounder to first, but Arroyo’s toe came off the side of the base as he leaned forward to catch the relay. Arraez gave the Twins the lead, three batters after the reversal.

SERIES STUFF

The last time the Twins were swept in a four-game series by the Red Sox was July 3-6, 2000, at the Metrodome. Boston swept three-game series here in 2012 and 2013 and at Fenway Park in 2005, 2008 and 2014.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Red Sox: DH J.D. Martinez and IF Marwin Gonzalez were out of the starting lineup to rest, four games into a 14-game, 13-day stretch. “We’ve just got to be careful with the workload with all those guys,” Cora said.

Twins: CF Byron Buxton and 3B Josh Donaldson were on the bench as a hamstring precaution. Buxton missed the Wednesday doubleheader, too, when Donaldson returned from the injured list in the second game. … RHP Shaun Anderson was recalled from the alternate training site in St. Paul, a fresh-arm swap for RHP Cody Stashak, then sent back after the game.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Host the Chicago White Sox in a four-game series starting Friday. RHP Nick Pivetta (2-0, 3.27 ERA) will take the mound for the opener. The White Sox had yet to announce their starter.

Twins: Visit the Los Angeles Angels for a three-game series beginning Friday. LHP Lewis Thorpe will come off the taxi squad to make his season debut, opposite LHP Andrew Heaney (1-1, 7.00 ERA).

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.