Miguel Sano is turning out to be an error-prone third baseman, at least for the moment.
But the young slugger reminded his team, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, that his real value isn’t in the field. Shortly after Saturday’s 11-inning game resumed after a two-hour rain delay, Sano clubbed a double off the center field wall, setting up the game-winning run. Joe Mauer scored it moments later, when Indians catcher Yan Gomes made a critical error of his own, dropping a force-out throw from pitcher Joe Colon on Max Kepler’s one-hop bouncer.
The result was a 5-4 Twins victory over the Indians that took only 15 minutes to complete after that long rain delay.
“I told the guys before we went back out there, we’ve been good in these situations as of late,” manager Paul Molitor said. “Late night, come back the next day, win another one.” Indeed, this was the third Twins game to end after midnight this month, and each time it’s been followed by a day game. So far, the Twins are 5-0 in those back-to-backs, with Sunday’s 1:35 p.m. start to come.
Sano committed two more errors at third base, giving him seven in his past eight games at his preferred position, and he’s not-so-slowly turning into a dilemma for the Twins. But shortstop Eduardo Nunez made a couple of All-Star caliber plays at critical moments, preserving the tie and enabling his team to record a second-day victory when the game resumed.
A light rain turned into a substantial shower at 10:14 p.m., and the game was suspended with two outs and nobody on in the top of the 11th. By the time the rain ended shortly before midnight, only a couple hundred hardy fans, out of the announced 29,447 who turned out for Torii Hunter bobblehead night, remained in the ballpark. The game picked up at that point at 12:19 a.m., with Trevor May, the Twins’ seventh pitcher of the game, taking over and retiring Gomes on two pitches to end the inning, extending Gomes' streak to 27 consecutive at-bats without a hit.
Mauer drew a one-out walk against Cleveland’s Joe Colon in the Twins’ 11th, and Sano fouled off a couple of two-strike pitches before pouncing on a fastball and drilling it off the wall in right-center. Mauer was held at third and Brian Dozier was intentionally walked, and the Indians added a fifth infielder as Kepler batted.
He bounced a one-hopper to Colon — the play might have been a double play had Colon not reached behind him to get a glove on it — and the pitcher pounced on the ball before flipping it home to try to force out Mauer. Gomes received it as Mauer slid home, but the ball popped out of his glove and the Twins had their sixth walk-off victory of the season — third against the Indians.
“We had chances, definitely, to build a lead early. We didn’t take advantage,” Molitor said. “But we stayed with the game.”
Nunez is part of the reason why. The veteran infielder this week made his first appearance in the All-Star Game, and he lived up to that billing Saturday. Nunez singled twice and scored a run, but it was his fielding that came in especially valuable for the Twins.
Cleveland held a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning and was threatening to add to it when Nunez came through the first time. With Mike Napoli on first base and two outs, Juan Uribe pounded a ground ball deep into the hole between third and short. Nunez caught up to it on the grass in short left field, made a brilliant backhand stop, and while running toward the foul line, somehow threw a one-hopper across the diamond to beat Uribe for the third out and save a run.
“That was spectacular,” Molitor said.
That was just the start for Nunez, though. In the 10th inning, Napoli slapped a one-out grounder that Dozier couldn’t handle at second, and Ryan Pressly followed that single by walking Jose Ramirez, setting up a good scoring chance for the Indians. But Rajai Davis then lined a hard grounder at Nunez, and it took a wicked hop that smacked him in the ribs. Nunez flipped the ball to Dozier, who completed the inning-ending double play as Nunez crumpled to the ground from the blow. After a trainer came out to help him, Nunez walked off the field, no harm done — except to Cleveland’s scoring opportunity.
Nunez’s defensive wizardry was a contrast to Sano, who is adjusting to playing third base on a full-time basis for the first time in his major league career. It hasn’t gone smoothly, though Sano made a couple of impressive plays, particularly with his strong arm, on Saturday. But the mistakes are what get noticed: Sano waited under Francisco Lindor’s foul popup in the seventh inning, but then dropped it. And two innings later, Davis hit a grounder that Sano allowed to bounce off his chest and ricochet away. Neither error resulted in a Cleveland run, however.
Tyler Duffey, the first Twins pitcher to post three consecutive victories this season, could not make it four, giving up four runs over 6 1/3 innings. He was adept at stranding runners; Cleveland was 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position while he was in the game. But absent the bushel of runs the Twins had been providing him lately — 36 runs in his last four starts — Duffey never pitched with a lead.
That’s because the Twins were quieted, for the second night in a row, by a Cleveland righthander. One night after Carlos Carrasco held them to two runs, the Twins could only scratch out four against Trevor Bauer, two of them coming after he had departed. Bauer stranded runners on third base in the second, third and fourth innings.
Dozier drove in two runs for the second straight night, one of them on a sacrifice fly that scored Byron Buxton, the other a groundball single up the middle just out of shortstop Francisco Lindor’s diving attempt. That one came in the seventh inning, a grand opportunity for the Twins that produced the tying, but not go-ahead runs.