Joe Ryan, Max Kepler lead Twins past Cubs

CHICAGO — Twice in Joe Ryan’s young major league career, the rookie starter has flirted with history.

In his second start, he took a perfect game into seventh inning before Cleveland’s Amed Rosario denied his bid for history. On Wednesday, his fourth start, it was the Twins’ record books he was chasing, but he was denied the chance to go for it, not by the Cubs, but by his manager, who opted to go the bullpen for the sixth inning with Ryan sitting at 86 pitches.

At the time of his departure, Ryan had struck out the last seven Cubs he had faced. He didn’t get the chance to go for eight, which would have matched a club record set by Kenta Maeda last season. Still, the rookie picked up a win for a job well done, as the Twins beat the Cubs 5-4 on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, sweeping the quick two-game series in Chicago.

“He attacked them in the strike zone and he attacked them with pitches that they had trouble with,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He was feeling really, really saucy and could probably have continued on and pitched, but the most pitches he’s probably thrown this year I think is about 89 pitches. … It was just a wonderful start.”

Ryan struck out every member of the Cubs’ (67-85) starting lineup in his 11-strikeout start, while setting a new career high.

On his way to the new milestone, he became the first pitcher in Twins (67-85) history to record 11 strikeouts in five innings or less. Twins pitchers finished the night with 18 punchouts, and of Ryan’s, six were looking, including the last five.

“I’ve been told I had some good little hop at the end of the pitch, so maybe it looks like it’s going to be down (and) stays in the zone a little longer,” Ryan said. “I really don’t know what it is. Their decision to swing or not was not dictated by me. I figured I’d just put a pitch in a pretty good spot and see what happens.

Ryan himself struck out a couple times at the plate, as Max Kepler’s borrowed bat apparently didn’t have any hits in it for the rookie pitcher.

It did have plenty of hits in it for the right fielder, who provided the offense in the win with his second multi-homer game of the season. It was the second consecutive three-hit game for Kepler.

“I guess the wind helps sometimes,” Kepler said. “Today I hit it to right field, where the wind was kind of blowing crazy in and out depending on what inning it was, but luckily I caught some jet stream up there.”

The first gave the Twins a two-run lead in the first inning. The second broke open a tie in the fourth inning after a Nico Hoerner single off Ryan had brought home a pair of runs earlier in the game. Kepler later doubled in the sixth inning and came around to score the Twins’ fourth run of the night when second baseman Matt Duffy couldn’t handle a Miguel Sanó grounder hit his way.

The Twins added an insurance run in the ninth inning when Nick Gordon came around to score on Andrelton Simmons’ sacrifice fly. It was one that was sorely needed as the Cubs rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth off Alexander Colomé. But though things got dicey at the end, Colomé wound up stranding a pair of runners in scoring position, preserving the win after Ryan’s gem.

“He’s out there having fun, and he knows what he’s doing, and that’s good for his age,” Kepler said of Ryan. “He knows what stuff works for him and he has confidence in it and swagger about it.”

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