ARLINGTON, TEXAS – A week ago, the Twins left Target Field with their first-place lead having disappeared. They were coming off five losses in six games, including a couple of crushing defeats, and seemingly trending downward.
So how different did it feel in the clubhouse Sunday, after the Twins completed their first four-game sweep ever in Texas, after a 5-1 road trip that restored their AL Central lead to 2½ games, after a 6-3 victory over the Rangers in 99-degree heat?
“It doesn’t. It doesn’t feel different at all,” said Taylor Rogers, who earned his 19th save by striking out Rougned Odor on a fastball that nipped the outside corner and ended the game. “We have a long-term approach — it’s a marathon, not a sprint. This week proves what our thought process has been. It never wavered.”
Not even under blistering-hot conditions. The Twins took an early lead against former Twin Lance Lynn, watched Texas creep back to tie the score and then pulled away on Jorge Polanco’s two-out, bases-loaded triple off a rookie who throws 100-mph cutters.
“I was concentrating on putting the bat on the ball and getting a good pitch,” Polanco said. “I was thinking that the fastball was going to cut, so that’s what I got and I was able to drive it.”
Pitching in afternoon heat that remained at 99 degrees for most of the game — a reminder of why the Rangers are abandoning Globe Life Park for an air-conditioned dome next year — Martin Perez turned in his second strong no-decision of the Twins’ road trip. Perez, who allowed only one unearned run Tuesday in Milwaukee, managed five sweltering innings in his old home park, and held Texas to two runs on five hits and four walks. Rangers catcher Jeff Mathis singled home both runs following a wild pitch, but Perez stranded seven runners before giving way to the bullpen.
“Everything is good with me. Every time in my career, I start good and have a couple of ups and downs,” Perez said. “I want to finish strong. Especially right now, we need to win, and if we do the job together, we’re going to do something special. That’s our goal: October.”
The Twins had heard about the turnaround that Lynn has made this season with Texas, but in his first career start against them, the veteran righthander sure looked like the pitcher who spent four mediocre months in Minnesota last season: long innings, lots of walks, in and out of frequent trouble.
Lynn gave up two runs in the first inning on a Marwin Gonzalez double, another in the fourth on a Eddie Rosario sacrifice fly, and departed after 112 pitches in just five innings, having allowed four hits and five walks.
“We had really competitive at-bats from the start. We laid off a lot of tough pitches,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s been exceptional, and today our guys were exceptional. They went up and did great work, waiting on the pitches they wanted to attack, and left the rest of them alone.”
Still, the Rangers crept back when Perez tired, scoring two runs on Mathis’ single. And Shin-Soo Choo tied the score in the seventh inning, greeting Twins righthander Sam Dyson with a leadoff home run, his 20th of the season.
But the Twins responded right away in the eighth against Rangers rookie Emmanuel Clase. Ehire Adrianza led off with a single, and Jason Castro doubled him to third. After a strikeout, Adrianza was thrown out trying to score on a ground ball. But Miguel Sano walked, and Polanco came through with the third bases-loaded triple of his career, smashing a 99-mph fastball to the wall in right-center.
It was the Twins’ first extra-base hit with the bases loaded since a Nelson Cruz double June 26. And Sergio Romo and Rogers made it hold up, proving, the closer said, that the Twins aren’t folding in heat of a pennant race.
“That was the internet’s opinion, not ours. We’ve had the second-best start to this point in franchise history, and apparently that’s not good enough for everybody,” Rogers said. “But we’re aware of that, and we think it’s pretty darn good.”