A homecoming, a bench clearing, an ejection … and another Twins loss to the Astros

HOUSTON — Benches cleared and Twins and Astros players glowered at each other Tuesday night after Jose Altuve was hit by a pitch, but mostly everyone kept their tempers in check.

Rocco Baldelli, on the other hand, became the angriest man in Minute Maid Park when the ramifications of that brawl-that-wasn’t became clear.

The Astros handed Minnesota its fourth consecutive loss, 4-2, a wild game that included several loud and sincere ovations for former Astro Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander’s six innings of near-perfect pitching, a benches-clearing argument, Baldelli’s ejection for debating the definition of a mound visit, a line drive off Cole Sands’ pitching elbow, and yet another malady to a Twins center fielder.

“You think you’ve seen it all in baseball,” Twins pitcher Aaron Sanchez said. “And then you see [that]. It was one of those kind of situations.”

And if Verlander hadn’t left after six hitless innings, those storylines may have been overshadowed by another historic moment by the future Hall of Famer.

Verlander, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning at Target Field in May before Gio Urshela spoiled it, this time got through six innings without a hit, striking out 10 Twins. But he was lifted rather than being allowed to complete his fourth career no-hitter, and Correa, in his first day back at his longtime baseball home, immediately lined a single to center field off reliever Ryan Stanek, denying the Astros their second combined no – hitter of 2022.

“That was cool. I didn’t want to get no-hit on the first game back, so I had to drop that one in there,” Correa said. As for Verlander, “He’s the Cy Young favorite for a reason. We had a plan and it’s like he knew what our plan was.”

Verlander’s 22nd career victory over the Twins was interrupted by histrionics in the fifth inning, when Sanchez, a former Astro, threw a sinker inside to Altuve. The Astros’ All-Star stared at Sanchez and took his time heading for first base when umpire Rob Drake ruled the pitch had clipped him.

“I was just trying to look at him because I saw how he reacted at the plate, and then he never looked like he was walking down the line,” Sanchez said. “I was waiting for him to look, and [I’d] be like, ‘Yo, my bad.’ And his team was already on the top step.”

Whether out of confusion or as a challenge, both players gestured towards each other, and players hopped out of the dugouts in case anyone took further action. Both managers rushed out to act as peacemakers, eventually settling things without a fight breaking out.

Baldelli stopped by the mound to make sure he was calm and ready to resume pitching, apparently with good reason; the righthander proceeded to throw four pitches badly out of the strike zone to Yuli Gurriel, walking him.

Baldelli sent pitching coach Pete Maki to the mound, but once he got there, Drake ruled that it was the second mound visit of the inning, and that Sanchez must be lifted. The manager rushed out to object, and as the conversation grew heated, crew chief Todd Tichenor ejected Baldelli, his second so far in August.

“On the way back to the dugout, I just walked over to it [Sanchez] and said, ‘Are you fine?’ He said yes. I walked away. Pretty straightforward,” Baldelli explained afterward. “And later, we were alerted that a mound visit had been given to me during a bench-clearing incident. I didn’t agree with it.”

Cole Sands was summoned to replace Sanchez, and he escaped scoring any runs when Correa turned Kyle Tucker’s bases-loaded ground ball into a slick home-to-first double play.

Sands, though, had to leave the game himself two innings later, when Gurriel lined a pitch off his pitching elbow, leaving the imprint of laces as evidence. Trevor Megill relieved and gave up a two-run homer into the Crawford boxes in left field to Alex Bregman. And the Twins also lost Nick Gordon when the center fielder reported feeling dizzy during a fifth-inning at-bat.

Plenty of the Twins looked a little dizzy trying to hit off Verlander, MLB’s ERA leader and a strong favorite to win his third AL Cy Young Award. Verlander struck out seven Twins during his first time through the lineup, passing Pedro Martinez for 14th on the all-time strikeout list, though Gordon reached first base when the curveball he swung at and missed bounced past catcher Martin Maldonado.

Then he struck out three more his second time through, passing his former teammate Max Scherzer for the 13th-most strikeouts in history. But Verlander was pulled after six, and the Twins eventually collected six hits against Houston’s bullpen, with Jose Miranda and Max Kepler delivering ninth-inning RBI singles to make the noisy crowd tense before Bryan Abreu struck out Jake Cave with the bases loaded to end the game.

The Twins have scored only eight runs in their past five games, and have been outscored by the Astros 25-5 in their four meetings this season, all Astros victories.

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