The brief look that Chi Chi Gonzalez gave the Texas Rangers on Saturday afternoon suggested that he might not have had his best stuff, but he was making enough pitches to get outs and pitch deeper into the game than he did.
The defense behind him, though, wasn’t cooperating. If it wasn’t a physical mistake, it was a poor decision. Sometimes, it was both on the same play.
And when the Rangers’ normally reliable defense didn’t help Gonzalez escape the first, the wheels were set in motion for what happened at Target Field. But it was probably difficult for the Rangers to envision the hurt the Minnesota Twins would put on them.
Max Kepler hit two three-run homers, one apiece off the ineffective Cesar Ramos and Luke Jackson, and things got so bad for the Rangers in a 17-5 loss that they needed catcher Bryan Holaday to get four outs.
And he went down as their most effective pitcher.
It was that kind of day, and it unraveled early.
“We kind of set the tone in the first,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “Sloppy play. We couldn’t get ourselves out of the first. And then we couldn’t gain any ground or we couldn’t stop them from scoring after that with Ramos or Jackson.
“It’s one of those games that, obviously, in 162 games they’re not all going to be as clean as you’d like them. A couple times a year you see this happen.”
It happened with the usually reliable Rangers’ defense having issues on three plays.
The Twins opened the first inning with a single and walk against Gonzalez, who then got a loud out from slugger Miguel Sano. Brian Dozier followed with a hard one-hopper to the mound that Gonzalez fielded, but his throw to second base tailed and Rougned Odor missed it for an error that loaded the bases.
“It was sinking, but I should have caught it,” Odor said. “There’s no excuse.”
A better throw, and the Rangers have a chance at a double play.
“That could have ended the inning right there,” Gonzalez said.
Kepler was next, and he sent a high chopper to first that Mitch Moreland opted to field and throw home for the force rather than take a sure out. But the throw was late and Eduardo Nunez scored.
If Odor catches the Gonzalez throw — it hit off his glove for the error — allowing Moreland to take the sure out, then the Rangers are out of the inning without a run scoring.
Instead, the Twins led 1-0 and went up 2-0 as the Rangers bungled a chance at an inning-ending double play. Odor couldn’t get Eduardo Escobar’s hard grounder out of his glove, and Elvis Andrus tried to bare-hand Odor’s flip.
The ball fell to the ground, and though Andrus recovered just in time to get a forceout, a run scored and the inning continued. Gonzalez issued a walk and then a two-run single to Juan Centeno, and Banister went to Ramos with Gonzalez at 38 pitches.
Only one of the four runs against Gonzalez was earned.
“Thirty-eight pitches for Chi Chi, a young guy in a situation like that, I could have pushed him for another hitter,” Banister said. “But he’s out of that game anyway. I’m going to protect him.”
Ramos got out of the first, but didn’t provide much relief over the next two innings. Kepler hit his first homer to right field with two outs in the second, and Sano launched a two-run homer as part of a four-run third.
Jackson actually provided the Rangers’ only 1-2-3 inning in fourth, but the Twins opened the fifth with three consecutive singles, then two walks and a sacrifice fly before Kepler hit his second homer to nearly the same spot as the first.
That made the score 17-4, and Shawn Tolleson, Tony Barnette and Holaday kept the Twins from scoring 20 runs for the first time since 2014. Holaday retired all four batters he faced, using a 78 mph fastball and a quasi-knuckleball that got one swing-and-miss from Escobar that caused him to fall down.
Holaday has faced six batters as a pro — two for Triple A Toledo last year — and has retired them all.
“Hopefully I don’t get overexposed,” said Holaday, the 10th position player to pitch in Rangers history.
The bad day on the mound overshadowed a good day by the Rangers’ offense, which collected 10 hits. Three of them were home runs — solo shots by Ryan Rua and Shin-Soo Choo and a two-run homer by Robinson Chirinos.
The first inning, though, set the long day in motion.
“It’s one inning,” Banister said. “It just so happened it happened in the first today. Would we feel any better if it happened in the fifth or sixth? Probably not. But it was just a situation that puts us underneath from the get-go. We had to use some guys out of the bullpen and go in some directions we really didn’t want to.”
Rangers at Twins
1:10 p.m. Sunday, FSSW