In Twins lore, it will go down as the Max Kepler Game.
Kepler twice played the hero as the Minnesota Twins pulled out a 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox in 17 innings, the longest game in Target Field history and one of the best games of the season. Kepler tied the game with a home run in the bottom of the 13th inning and then won it with a bases-loaded walk-off single, somehow sneaking a ground ball down the right-field line past a five-man infield.
Yeah, it lasted more than 5 hours, 45 minutes and featured 16 relief pitchers. You wouldn't want this on a nightly basis, but these games are rare enough to be appreciated and loved, not legislated out of existence with that silly "start the inning with a runner on second base" nonsense that has been discussed.
The game even featured some 17th-inning controversy. With Luis Arraez on first base and one out, Eddie Rosario tried to bunt for a base hit and hit it foul, with his right foot on the far edge of the batter's box. Red Sox manager Alex Cora argued to no avail that Rosario should have been ruled out for making contact with the ball outside the batter's box. Rosario would eventually double in the at-bat, sending Arraez to third base. After Kepler's winning hit, Cora angrily confronted the umpiring crew and had to be restrained by his coaches.
Was Cora right in his argument? It didn't appear so. Rosario took a couple of steps forward as he bunted, but his heel was still on the chalk when he made contact -- it was a legal bunt attempt. Cora admitted after the game that he let his emotions get the best of him after a tough loss. And it's not like the Red Sox didn't have their chances. In the top of the 17th, Andrew Benintendi reached third base after a single, stolen base and throwing error, but J.D. Martinez struck out -- he went 0-for-8 with five K's -- and Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts grounded out. In the 14th, Benintendi left the bases loaded. In the 10th, they didn't score after Brock Holt's leadoff double.
As for Kepler, he wasn't even supposed to play, only entering the game in the sixth inning. After Mookie Betts homered in the top of the 13th, Kepler did this:
And here's the walk-off hit, the latest for the Twins since Pedro Munoz's walk-off home run in the 22nd inning on Aug. 31, 1993, against Jason Grimsley of the Indians:
Kepler is now hitting .279/.362/.566 with 18 home runs, 49 RBIs and 49 runs. He has become an All-Star candidate in what is shaping as a breakout season -- just one of several for the Twins as their magical ride continues.
Yankees win as Stanton returns: Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first game since March 31 after missing 68 games with a variety of ailments, but the Yankees still beat the Rays 6-3. Edwin Encarnacion hit his first home run in pinstripes:
Born to Fly. pic.twitter.com/QP7yB3Zx94— New York Yankees (@Yankees) June 19, 2019
Think he's happy getting out of Seattle? Cameron Maybin also homered -- for the fourth straight game -- as the Yankees ran their streak to 21 games in a row with a home run.
The interesting thing in this game was Rays manager Kevin Cash removing "bulk" guy Ryan Yarbrough after he had breezed through three scoreless innings. The Rays were up 2-1, but Chaz Roe came in and gave up hits to five of the first six batters he faced as the Yankees scored three runs in the sixth.
Pulling Yarbrough was certainly understandable given all the righties in the Yankees' lineup and Roe is tough on righties with his nasty slider (although he hasn't been quite as dominant this season). His linescore was a little unfair as he gave up a few soft hits:
All five hits were singles, and only two were hit hard, but give the Yankees credit for putting the ball in play.
As for Stanton, he started in right field and hit fifth in the lineup. The general feeling is the Yankees don't need him to be a savior. They've been winning and scoring runs without him. Heck, Maybin is hitting .315/.387/.505; that's better than Stanton produced last year (.266/.343/.509). Maybe the missed time and the Yankees' backups holding their own will take some pressure off Stanton -- he's now just an additional cog in an unbelievably deep lineup that includes Encarnacion and still awaits the return of Aaron Judge. Less pressure, perhaps, but not zero pressure, given that his 2018 performance was a letdown after his 59-homer season with the Marlins in 2018.
Charlie Blackmon note of the day: Blackmon's past five games:
4-for-7, HR, 2B
4-for-5, 2 HRs, 3B
Most consecutive games with three-plus hits, past 50 years:
George Brett, 1976: 6
Blackmon, 2019: 5
Jose Altuve, 2017: 5
Rod Carew, 1975: 5
Ted Sizemore, 1970: 5
During his eight-game hitting streak, Blackmon is hitting .571/.571/1.167 with 6 home runs, 5 doubles, a triple, 14 runs and 15 RBIs. He has raised his average from .295 to .341.
Verlander's home run problem: The Reds beat Justin Verlander and the Astros 4-3 on the strength of three home runs. Jesse Winker led off the bottom of the first with a home run off a 1-2 four-seamer, Derek Dietrich added a two-run shot later in the inning off a 1-2 slider and then Kyle Farmer connected on a 3-2 slider in the seventh.
It hurts that all three home runs came with two strikes -- especially since Verlander gets the strikeout 51 percent of the time when he gets to two strikes -- but two of the home runs weren't exactly crushed. Farmer drilled his home run to deep left field, golfing out a low slider, but Winker's home run was 368 feet to the opposite field and Dietrich's went just 339 feet, a Great American Ball Park special.
Verlander has now surrendered 20 home runs, yet his ERA remains a sparkling 2.59, even after allowing the four runs in this game. He has allowed 32 runs, 23 of them coming on home runs, as batters are hitting just .157 off him and .128 with runners on base. Verlander is on pace to allow 44 home runs, and you can probably surmise that nobody has ever allowed 44 home runs with a 2.59 ERA.
Lowest ERA while allowing 40-plus home runs:
Ralph Terry, 1962 Yankees: 3.19 (40 HR)
Jack Morris, 1986 Tigers: 3.27 (40 HR)
Robin Roberts, 1955 Phillies: 3.28 (41 HR)
Those guys pitched a lot more innings, however, than Verlander will pitch, as Terry threw 298⅔ innings, Morris threw 267 and Roberts tossed 305. Only six pitchers have allowed 40 home runs with an ERA under 4.00, so Verlander's season is certainly a historic outlier so far.
Here are the lowest ERAs while allowing 30-plus home runs:
Denny McLain, 1968 Tigers: 1.96 (31)
Juan Marichal, 1966 Giants: 2.23 (32)
Randy Johnson, 1999 Diamondbacks: 2.48 (30)
That was the year McLain won 31 games -- he also made 41 starts and pitched 336 innings. Only 14 pitchers have allowed 30 home runs and posted an ERA under 3.00. The best comparison to Verlander would be Max Scherzer in 2016, when he allowed 31 home runs in 228 1/3 innings and finished with a 2.96 ERA. Scherzer held opponents to a .199 average that year.
Verlander, by the way, has had 13 consecutive starts of at least six innings and five or fewer hits allowed. He's the second pitcher since 1908 to do that. The first: Verlander, last season.
Prediction: He cuts down on the home runs and keeps that ERA under 3.00.
It has been this kind of season for the Nationals: Speaking of Scherzer, he was scheduled to start one of Wednesday's doubleheader games against the Phillies but broke his nose during bunting practice:
Max Scherzer broke his nose after taking a ball off the face during a bunting drill. pic.twitter.com/M9o4hYBj0J— ESPN (@espn) June 19, 2019
Scherzer will now probably skip his start on Wednesday and get pushed back to the weekend series against the Braves. That's obviously a big series for the Nationals, as it's starting to look like do-or-die time in the NL East race. They still have time to make a run -- and they have 17 games remaining against the Braves. After playing the Phillies (if it ever stops raining) and the Braves, they have a favorable stretch in the schedule with the Marlins, Tigers, Marlins, Royals, Phillies and Orioles for six series before meeting the Braves again on July 18.
Orioles note of the day: The A's hit six home runs in their 16-2 victory over the Orioles -- the ninth time the Orioles have allowed at least five home runs. That ties the 2016 Reds for most five-homer games. Baltimore has 89 games remaining. It's on pace to allow 326 home runs.
To put that into perspective: That's an average of 36.6 home runs from each spot in the lineup. When does Ravens training camp start?
Positive Marlins note of the day: The Marlins blanked the Cardinals 6-0 behind seven scoreless innings of two-hit baseball from Jordan Yamamoto. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, he's just the second pitcher since 1893 to begin his career with two starts of at least seven innings and three or fewer hits. The first was the immortal Jay Hughes, way back in 1898. A 23-year-old from Honolulu, Yamamoto was a 12th-round pick by the Brewers in 2014 and was part of the Christian Yelich trade -- really, he was the fourth-best prospect in the deal after Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and Isan Diaz. The Marlins promoted him from Double-A, where he had a 3.53 ERA and 53 hits in 65 1/3 innings with a so-so strikeout-to-walk ratio of 64 to 25. He's not overpowering (87-92 mph), but has a high spin rate on his fastball and a full arsenal of six pitches, including a cutter he likes to throw about a quarter of the time. He looks like an interesting arm to watch.