After the Twins hit three consecutive home runs off Nathan Eovaldi to take a five-run lead in the sixth inning Sunday, the only question left was when, if ever, the Yankees would get a baserunner against Minnesota righthander Tyler Duffey.
Not familiar with Tyler Duffey? Neither were the Yankees. They know him now. Duffey is the guy with the 6.18 ERA who threw 5 2⁄3 perfect innings before Aaron Hicks doubled into the rightfield corner to end that drama.
Duffey wound up allowing one run and two hits in eight innings as the Twins — the team with the worst record in baseball at 24-51 — dropped the Yankees back to .500 at 37-37 with a 7-1 victory before 38,673 at Yankee Stadium.
Duffey (3-6) is a 25-year-old righthander who baffled the Yankees with a low-90s fastball and darting breaking pitches. Before Sunday, batters had a .311 average against him. In his previous seven starts, Duffey allowed 58 hits in 35 1⁄3 innings and had a 9.17 ERA. Opponents had hit .358 against him. But the Yankees were 2-for-26 against Duffey and didn’t score until Mark Teixeira’s leadoff homer in the eighth.
After the home run, Duffey struck out the side to give him eight for the day. He did not walk a batter.
“It just seemed like we really weren’t picking up his curveball,” manager Joe Girardi said.
That must have been so, because the Yankees couldn’t even agree what to call the pitch that consistently started at their knees and ended up in the dirt after an unsuccessful hack.
“I felt like the slider — he was throwing it back door whenever he wanted,” Brian McCann said. “He had some good action on it throwing it back foot. Threw a lot of them with just enough fastballs and just enough changeups.”
MLB.com called the pitch a knuckle curve. Whatever it was, the Yankees couldn’t touch it. “He was dominant,” Girardi said.
The Twins, who were 10th in the AL and 20th in MLB in home runs coming into the day, hit six, including four off Eovaldi.
The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the third when No. 9 hitter Danny Santana hit his second home run of the season, but Eovaldi (6-5) was nearly as effective as Duffey until he allowed three home runs in a nine-pitch span in the sixth.
The Yankees had faced a similar game pattern on Saturday, trailing 1-0 entering the middle innings and then eking out a 2-1 victory with the help of their super bullpen trio. The trio may have been wholly or partially unavailable Sunday because of recent workloads, but if Eovaldi had kept the game close, you had to like the Yankees’ chances for the sweep.
But Eovaldi did not keep the game close. With two outs and no one on base in the sixth, he walked Joe Mauer on a 100-mph 3-and-2 pitch. Then Brian Dozier homered to left, Trevor Plouffe homered to left and Max Kepler made it 5-0 with a line shot to right. As the boos rained down, Eovaldi got the final out of the inning, earning sarcastic cheers from the fed-up crowd.
“I’ve got to stay in attack mode,” said Eovaldi, who has given up 17 home runs but mostly lamented the walk to Mauer.
“I thought his stuff was really good up to that point,” Girardi said. “Then he lost his stuff. It’s hard to answer. It changed quickly.”
Eovaldi’s outing ended a miserable June for the pitcher the Yankees had hoped was turning a corner and becoming a potential ace. He went 0-3 with an 8.65 ERA, allowing 25 earned runs and 38 hits (including 10 home runs) in 26 innings, and saw his season ERA go from 3.71 to 5.19.
Luis Cessa, recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, gave up Minnesota’s fifth home run, a solo shot by former Yankee Eduardo Nuñez in the seventh. Juan Centeno homered off Tyler Yates in the ninth.
The Yankees, who again failed to go two games over .500 and have not reached that lofty point since the sixth game of the season, went 6-5 in a stretch of playing only the Twins and Rockies. They had hoped for better.
“We really struggled with Colorado,” Girardi said. “We were 1-3 against them and then we win five out of seven against Minnesota. You can live with that, but the 1-3 against Colorado, we did not play well against them. We need to make up ground. No matter who we’re playing.”