With one mighty swing Didi Gregorius dealt a potentially fatal blow to Fernando Abad’s long-shot all-star campaign.
Summoned to preserve a hard-earned tie in the top of the seventh inning, Abad grooved a first-pitch fastball to the New York Yankees shortstop. Gregorius didn’t miss.
His three-run blast to right sent the Yankees on their way to a 4-1 win over the groggy Twins, whose redeye flight from Anaheim, Calif., didn’t return until 5:30 a.m.
“You realize it’s a dangerous part of the game when you’re looking at potentially facing their bullpen with a lead in the last three innings,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We just couldn’t make a pitch to try to keep the game even.”
Flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 12th save after Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller worked a scoreless inning apiece. Combined that trio struck out four of the 10 batters it faced.
With their sixth loss in eight games, the Twins (20-46) fell a season-high 26 games under .500. Combined with a 7-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds for the Atlanta Braves, the Twins fell back into a tie with the Braves for the majors’ worst record.
In a surprisingly tasty battle of last-place teams with a lengthy postseason history in the prior decade, Kyle Gibson matched 35-year-old warhorse CC Sabathia through the first six innings. The Yankees’ only run to that point came on Jacoby Ellsbury’s game-tying single in the sixth, when Gibson (0-5) worked out of trouble after loading the bases with nobody out.
When the first two Yankees reached in the seventh — Alex Rodriguez on an infield chopper to third and Brian McCann on a five-pitch walk — it was clear this time Gibson would need help.
Lifted after 96 pitches following a sacrifice bunt, Gibson watched in horror from the dugout as Gregorius crushed his sixth homer and the first off Abad since signing with the Twins. Abad gave up 11 homers last season with the Oakland A’s.
“As a starting pitcher, I don’t think it’s ever tough to see my runs cashed in,” Gibson said after his earned run average dropped to 6.06. “It’s tough to see the team lose a game.”
Gibson had no problem with Molitor’s decision to go with Abad, who entered with a 0.79 ERA.
“He hadn’t given up a home run all year,” Gibson said. “He’s been throwing the ball really well. There’s not too many guys I’d rather have come into that situation. It might be another 30 or 40 innings before he gives up another homer. He’s been great.”
Since holding lefties hitless in their first 21 at-bats against them this year, the veteran lefty has allowed four hits in their past 11 at-bats against him.
The first batter Abad has faced is 8 for 25 (.320), and he has now allowed 10 of 27 inherited runners (37 percent) to score. As a team, the struggling Twins bullpen entered at 33 percent in that category.
“I’m not going to put it on one pitch,” Molitor said. “I think he’s up to four hits now. I think Gregorius was 0 for 4 or whatever it was. We just wanted to get a chance to bring him in there and have him face that particular part of the lineup.”
To borrow one of Molitor’s pet phrases, it didn’t work out.
“You’re hoping for a strikeout,” Molitor said. “Even a walk wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but [Abad] tried to get ahead and [Gregorius] was ready.”
Sabathia, plagued in recent years by physical and off-field problems, continued his resurgence with a 116-pitch outing that included just six hits and three walks against seven strikeouts. He hadn’t thrown that many pitches since July 3, 2013 — also at Target Field — when he used 121 in a 3-2 win over P.J. Walters.
Rookie center fielder Byron Buxton struck out all three times he faced Sabathia, each time on sliders.
Ex-Yankee Eduardo Nunez got the Twins on the board in the fourth with a two-out single to right that scored Max Kepler, who doubled. Otherwise, the Twins’ offense was fairly dormant.
Twins hitters left 10 men on base and went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
“Against that team it turned out to be the difference that we couldn’t add on early in the ballgame,” Molitor said.
That included two more hitless at-bats in the clutch for Korean rookie Byung Ho Park, who is now 5 for 48 (.104) in such spots.