MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After watching the Oakland Athletics stage a late rally to take the lead for the third straight game, it might have been easy for the Minnesota Twins to get frustrated. Instead, they got back to work and Max Kepler came up with another huge hit.
Kepler drove in four runs, including the game-winner to cap a two-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Twins beat the Athletics 7-6 on Sunday.
“Kep’s been doing it all year for us,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. “He’s done it against everyone that we’ve thrown him up there against.”
Kepler also doubled and hit his 24th home run of the season as the Twins came back after blowing a 4-0 lead. His base hit in the ninth was his second walk-off hit in as many months.
Trailing 6-5 entering the ninth, the Twins got a one-out single from rookie Luis Arraez, his third hit of the game. Ehire Adrianza followed with his third hit as well, a triple off Liam Hendriks (2-1) that tied the game. After Hendriks struck out Jason Castro, Kepler lined the first pitch into left-center for his third hit.
“I heard the crowd behind me. It kind of gave me goose bumps for a second, and I could feel the emotions get ahold of me,” Kepler said. “And then I just took a deep breath and zoned in on the pitcher.”
Hendriks had picked up saves in each of the previous two games and hadn’t allowed an earned run in 20 2/3 innings.
“These guys worked their tails off today and I couldn’t bring it home,” said Hendriks, who blew his first save since taking over as Oakland’s closer in late June. “It’s disappointing in that regard.”
Reliever Kohl Stewart (2-1) earned the win after pitching a scoreless ninth as the Twins earned a split of their four-game series with Oakland.
The Twins jumped ahead 4-0 in the second on Kepler’s three-run homer off A’s starter Daniel Mengden, but Oakland cut that lead in half in the fifth when Josh Phegley hit his 10th homer of the season against Twins starter Michael Pineda.
The A’s kept chipping away and eventually took the lead with two runs off reliever Trevor May in the eighth inning. Pinch-hitter Chris Hermann’s RBI double tied the game, and Phegley hit a sacrifice fly to put the A’s on top 6-5.
But the Twins kept grinding and pulled out a big win ahead of a three-game showdown with another AL first-place team, the Yankees, who come to town on Monday.
“I think with this win the team has to lift up a little bit,” Adrianza said. “We’ve got a pretty big series coming — we face a pretty good team and we have to fight these three nights.”
After the game the Twins optioned RHP Zack Littell to Triple-A Rochester. Littell had pitched in three straight games, including striking out the only batter he faced on Sunday. The team said it would announce a corresponding move on Monday.
I’M WALKING HERE!
Both starting pitchers came into the game riding extended streaks with good control, but both had trouble finding the plate on Sunday. Mengden hadn’t walked a batter in his previous three starts, covering 18 innings, but he walked five Twins in just 3 1/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Pineda was fifth in the major leagues in fewest walks per nine innings this season and had walked just three batters in his previous five starts, covering 29 innings. But he tied his career high with five walks in 5 1/3 innings.
The Twins left 12 men on base through the first eight innings and failed to drive in a runner on third with fewer than two outs four times on the day. But Baldelli chose to take a more optimistic view of the situation.
“The fact that we had those guys on base was a good sign,.” he said. “We would much rather have that than the alternative.”
Twins: CF Byron Buxton was eligible to come off the 7-day concussion IL on Sunday, but even though he participated in pregame drills on the field, the Twins did not activate him.
Athletics: RHP Homer Bailey (8-6, 4.69) will make his second start for Oakland when the A’s face the Astros in Houston on Monday. Bailey, who was acquired in a July 14 trade with the Royals, allowed two earned runs over six innings to pick up the win over Seattle in his A’s debut on July 17.
Twins: Minnesota will send LHP Martin Perez (8-3, 4.10) to the mound on Monday to open a three-game series with the Yankees at Target Field. Perez has thrown at least six innings in each of his last three starts, all at home.
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