Sunday afternoon the Minnesota Twins, during the first July in which they have led the American League Central since 2010, were jeered at Target Field in the eighth inning, and a subset of the crowd left before the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game between two probable playoff teams.
An hour later, the Twins clubhouse featured disco lights and mood music as players lingered, holding weary conversations in two languages, and bumping fists.
The Twins’ latest bullpen failure led to one of the most stirring victories of the season as they scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to beat Oakland 7-6, before the remnants of an announced crowd of 34,070.
They will face the nemesis Yankees in a three-game series starting Monday at Target Field, and anyone who doesn’t find all of this entertaining should quit sports and watch only reruns of movies with happy endings.
Twins players spilling from their dugout to chase Max Kepler into center field after four hours of plot twists and vital pitches is why you love baseball, if you love baseball, and if you love baseball you have to love what Ehire Adrianza has become this season.
Claimed off waivers in February 2017, Adrianza joined the Twins as a stereotypical light-bodied, light-hitting utility infielder. When the Twins this spring signed Marwin Gonzalez, Adrianza became a backup utility player, which is like being an assistant to the assistant.
Through May 11, he looked like a reincarnation of Pedro Florimon, batting .130 with a .185 slugging percentage. He might as well have been swinging an umbrella.
Sunday, Adrianza hit a double and scored in the second and hit an RBI single in the fifth. In the ninth, he tripled home the tying run off All-Star closer Liam Hendriks before scoring the winning run on Kepler’s single.
Since May 11, Adrianza is batting .384 with a .465 on-base percentage and a .562 slugging percentage, and he has played every position other than catcher and center field. His career numbers coming into this season: a .242 average, .303 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage.
Sunday, he started at first base in his continuing quest to become a valuable and confusing player.
“He’s come through for us numerous times, and he’s come through in the biggest moments,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think he’s still growing as a player. I didn’t really know him coming into this season. He’s a really good player.”
With the Giants, during his first four seasons in the majors, Adrianza says he weighed about 150 pounds. Now 195, the Venezuelan has the body of a gymnast and for the first time is displaying the power of a corner infielder.
“The last three years, I stayed here in the United States to work on my weight, and it’s helped me a lot,” he said. “If I didn’t do that, I don’t know where I’d be today.”
His first season with the Twins ended at Yankee Stadium, when his new team blew another lead in yet another loss in the one-sided rivalry. The Twins have lost 10 consecutive playoff games to the Yankees.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good team,” Adrianza said. “We like to play those guys. We like the competition. If we’re going to play in the playoffs, you want to face good teams. So we’re ready to play our best games these next three nights.”
The Yankees arrive after a tumultuous nine-game, post-break stretch for the Twins, who won two of three at Cleveland, were swept in a two-game series by the awful Mets, then split a four-game series against a good A’s team.
The Twins bullpen is tattered, but disco lights and outfield celebrations tend to enhance moods.
“Just a lot of energy, man,” he said of the atmosphere in the clubhouse. “I think with this win, this team is lifted up a little bit.”
The beautiful thing about a pennant race is that every day counts, and every player, too.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib.